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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Industrial Relations in Europe 2012
Press conference/Brussels, 11 April 2013
Ladies and gentlemen
As Commission President Barroso underlined at the Jobs for Europe conference last September social dialogue, collective bargaining and consultation are part of Europe's DNA.
Social dialogue - the dialogue between workers and employers - is a key element of the European social model.
Today, as the Commission publishes the seventh Industrial Relations in Europe report, this has never been more true.
The countries in which social dialogue is well-established and industrial relations institutions are strong are generally those where the economic and social situation is better and under less pressure.
The Industrial Relations in Europe 2012 report gives a comprehensive picture of the state of relations between employers, workers, their respective representatives, and governments throughout Europe.
And it shows that social dialogue is currently under great strain in Europe.
There are various causes, all linked to the current crisis and the difficult macroeconomic conditions.
When the crisis first hit in 2008 and 2009, social dialogue was used in many countries to find creative solutions that preserved jobs and helped companies to adapt and overcome the recession.
But the depth, extension and duration of the crisis, have increased tensions and we are witnessing more and more instances of conflict.
Reforms have not always been accompanied by a fully effective social dialogue, leading to a lack of consensus about what should be a fair distribution of the costs of the crisis. This can make the implementation in practice of the reforms more difficult.
The report shows that in Central and Eastern Europe industrial relations institutions in general remain weak and fragmented, although Slovenia is a notable exception.
In the 15 countries that were Member States before 2004, some 70% of workers are covered by negotiated agreements at their workplace. But in Central and Eastern Europe this figure is only 44%.
This state of affairs is partly the result of the weak and fragmented structure of social partner organisations –for both employers and employees.
Trade union membership is lower in the Central and Eastern European countries.
Even fewer employers in Central and Eastern Europe are members of an employers' organisation.
In the 15 countries that were Member States before 2004, some two-thirds of employers are organised.
In Central and Eastern Europe, it is less than 40%.
The implications are clear: where employers and workers are not organised and do not articulate their interests, their voices will not be heard effectively.
The report concludes that there is a clear need to revitalise national industrial relation systems in several Central and Eastern European countries.
The report also shows that social dialogue is under strain in the public sector in Europe, which employs a quarter of the EU's workforce.
Restructuring and modernisation of the public sector, including administration, education and healthcare, has taken place in many countries for quite some time.
Recently, governments have prioritised public sector efficiency gains but in some countries, the methods chosen to implement decisions have often not included social dialogue.
As a result, public spending cuts and reforms triggered a wave of industrial conflicts and demonstrations in the public sector.
The report chronicles these events through an extensive analysis of evidence from the entire EU.
I have painted a worrying picture of the state of industrial relations in Europe in 2012, an analysis that was shared by ILO Director General Guy Ryder in Oslo earlier this week.
Yet the Commission emphatically believes that social dialogue remains a highly important part of the European social model.
This is why we have organised a high-level conference with social partners in Budapest next Monday and Tuesday, as part of a process of intensifying the debate with them.
We have also, for the first time ever, invited European social partners to a meeting of the College of Commissioners on 2nd May.
I would like to end by summarising three important conclusions from this report.
First, that well-established and comprehensive social dialogue contributes to economic prosperity.
Second, that reforms introduced without respecting social dialogue are less likely to be well implemented and durable. It’s not a question of wanting to slow down reforms but rather making sure they will be implemented in practice more quickly.
Third, that countries where social dialogue is weak need to strengthen it rather than further dilute it.