Friday, 5 December 2008

EU level social partners: Contractual relations and agreements

The social dialogue at European Community (European Union) level can lead to contractual relations, including agreements, between management and labour.

The EU level social partners are confederations of national business organisations and trade unions, so how can these agreements between be put into effect?

Are there any practical examples of implemented European level agreements by European level social partners?


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Social policy objectives

As a reminder, the social policy objectives mentioned in Article 136 TEC (ex Article 117), in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E/103, are important for management (employers, businesses) and labour (trade unions):

– promotion of employment

– improved and harmonised living and working conditions

– social protection

– dialogue between management and labour

– development of human resources

– combating exclusion.

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Article 139 TEC

Article 139 (ex Article 118b) of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) invites management and labour to establish contractual relations, including agreements at European level.

The European level organisations are free to agree how they cooperate.

Basically they cannot conclude agreements binding on third parties (labour markets in the member states).

Binding effects can be achieved in two ways:

1) Community level agreements can be transformed in accordance with the procedures and practices in each member state.

2) The Council can issue norms in matters covered by Article 137 TEC.

In the latter case, the organisations agree and request, the Commission proposes and the Council decides.

Unanimity in the Council is required concerning the fields covered in Article 137(1)(c), (d), (f) and (g) TEC. In other cases qualified majority voting applies.

Agreements concerning pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs are excluded. Cf. Article 137(5) TEC.

The current Article 139 TEC, as published in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJ 29.12.2006 C 321 E/109:

Article 139 TEC

1. Should management and labour so desire, the dialogue between them at Community level may lead to contractual relations, including agreements.

2. Agreements concluded at Community level shall be implemented either in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States or, in matters covered by Article 137, at the joint request of the signatory parties, by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission.

The Council shall act by qualified majority, except where the agreement in question contains one or more provisions relating to one of the areas for which unanimity is required pursuant to Article 137(2). In that case, it shall act unanimously.

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Original Lisbon Treaty (ToL)

Article 2, point 118 of the original Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) amends Article 139 TEC in the following way (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/81):

118) Article 139(2) shall be amended as follows:

(a) at the end of the first subparagraph, the following sentence shall be added: ‘The European Parliament shall be informed.’;

(b) in the second subparagraph, at the beginning of the first sentence, ‘The Council shall act by qualified majority, except where the agreement’ shall be replaced by ‘The Council shall act unanimously where the agreement’ and the second sentence shall be deleted.

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Renumbering ToL

The Table of equivalences of the original Treaty of Lisbon tells us that the social policy title was to be renumbered Title X and that the Article 139 TFEU (ToL) was to be renumbered Article 155 TFEU in the consolidated version of the amending treaties (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/214).


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

The exclusion of the European Parliament was mitigated by adopting the obligation to inform the EP from Article III-212(2) of the Constitutional Treaty, as proposed by the European Convention in Article 106(2) of the draft Constitution.

After the horizontal amendments and the editorial change to the second subparagraph of paragraph 2, Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in the consolidated TFEU, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/116, appears as follows:

(TITLE X
SOCIAL POLICY)

Article 155 TFEU
(ex Article 139 TEC)

1. Should management and labour so desire, the dialogue between them at Union level may lead to contractual relations, including agreements.

2. Agreements concluded at Union level shall be implemented either in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States or, in matters covered by Article 153, at the joint request of the signatory parties, by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission. The European Parliament shall be informed.

The Council shall act unanimously where the agreement in question contains one or more provisions relating to one of the areas for which unanimity is required pursuant to Article 153(2).

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Social partners

Again, Article 139 TEC and Article 155 TFEU employ the vague concept ‘management and labour’ in the English language version, but the reference to the Community (Union) level gives some guidance.

More distinctly, when I compared five other language versions of Article 155 TFEU they employ the term ‘social partners’ or something close to that, clearly evoking representative organisations of employers (businesses) and labour (trade unions) at European level.

German: Sozialpartner
French: partenaires sociaux
Spanish: interlocutores sociales
Finnish: työmarkkinaosapuolet
Swedish: arbetsmarknadens parter

For management and labour in the English language version of the current and future treaties, read social partners, because other language versions are explicit.

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Main European level social partners: Who are they?

The membership of the main Social dialogue committee (SDC) includes the main cross-sectoral players: the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Confederation of European Business (Businesseurope), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP), the European Associaiton of Craft, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (UEAPME), Eurocadres and the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (CEC):

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_dialogue/interprof_en.htm


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Social dialogue

The Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities offers web pages with information about the European social dialogue. A distinction is made between bipartite dialogue involving employers and trade unions (the subject of Article 139 TEC and Article 155 TFEU) and a tripartite dialogue with the participation of public authorities (the subject of Article 138 TEC and Article 154 TFEU). Consultation takes place both generally (cross-industry social dialogue) and on a sectoral basis:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_dialogue/index_en.htm

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Bipartite social dialogue

The Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities offers a web page Bipartite Social Dialogue at European level:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_dialogue/bipartite_en.htm

In addition to the main social dialogue committee (SDC), there are 33 sectoral committees.

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Social dialogue results

A web page called Typology of European social dialogue results presents practical examples:

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_dialogue/typology_en.htm

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Eurofound

Additional information on various aspects of employment issues from a research and communication viewpoint is offered by Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions:

http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/about/index.htm



Ralf Grahn