Euro Watch: Towards a new model of European industrial relations

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Mark Hammerton


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David Gibson


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Date: 12/09/13

A new report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has recently been published.

The report looks at the impact of the current crisis within the European and global economy on industrial relations strategy across the EU and Norway and outlines a number of key findings including:

  • The impact on industrial relations actors. There is evidence that a number of trade unions and workers’ organisations are now seeking consolidation with other trade unions/work organisations within nation states. This is also being replicated amongst employer organisations. Although there has been a slight decrease in union membership it is still the case that the main social actors are having an important role to play in economic planning, particularly in those economies where there is an established and mature working relationship between employers and employees. There is also evidence of employer and employee organisations trying to “work through” specific regional problems without recourse to the national level of the respective organisations.

A number of member states, namely those who are pursuing the austerity model (e.g. Greece/Spain) have seen an increase in new social movements. Workers have become disillusioned with the traditional worker representation organisations and therefore, for example in Spain, we have seen the development of new worker bodies such as 15-M and Indignados which has demanded radical political changes and the abolition of welfare cuts. In Greece many business level agreements are now drawn up via informal worker bodies and employer organisations.

  • Impact on industrial relations processes. The report suggests that there is a noticeable trend towards more decentralisation and tailoring of workplace arrangements to individual company circumstances. Only Finland and Belgium witnessed a trend towards greater centralisation. Overall, there has been greater flexibility in agreements reached between social partners with an emphasis on shorter agreements and a move away from automatic renewal when they expire.
  • Impact on industrial relations outcomes. There has been a marked downward pressure on pay, as would be expected. However, there has also been agreement between the social partners that in an effort to increase levels of productivity, greater flexibility in relation to working time should be adopted. This has included the introduction of staffing pools, temporary transfer of employees between firms and extended short time working schemes.

In conclusion, the report suggests that the Nordic and Central European countries, with a tradition of a less adversarial industrial relations framework, have proved to be more resilient to economic changes and developments.

These developments should be seen against the backdrop of a push by the European Commission to promote trans-national collective agreements.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact David Gibson, Partner, Employment & Pensions.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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