Clarity is crucial to safeguarding EU social dialogue

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(21 April 2023) Delegates at the 70th meeting of the EPSU Executive Committee have expressed their concerns about the European Commission’s recent proposals to strengthen EU social dialogue.

The proposal consists of a Communication on EU social dialogue and a Council Recommendation on national social dialogue. Although the Council Recommendation contains several positive aspects, such as the recognition of the significance of institutional support for the process, the Communication's lack of clarity has generated apprehension regarding the future of the social dialogue process.

The Communication falls short of providing the necessary clarity and support required to accomplish the goal of sectoral social dialogue and, in particular, social partner agreements. We believe that it fails to provide a clear and transparent procedure for assessing whether or not to implement social partner agreements by a directive in line with established EU legislation. This lack of clarity could lead to lengthy delays and leaves agreement signatories in the dark about the decision-making process.

The EU must establish a much clearer and transparent procedure for processing social partner agreements into directives. The Commission cannot call for social partners to negotiate more agreements without clearly defined criteria for how these agreements will be implemented. The lack of clarity is already being felt, with the Commission's "single package" plan to tackle the central government social partner agreement on digitalisation and the upcoming cross-sector agreement on telework seeming uncertain. We have requested an immediate assessment of the digitalisation agreement and are waiting for the cross-sector social partners to meet with us to discuss the articulation between both agreements to make them legally binding.

Furthermore, the Communication does not secure a sound future for the organisation and funding of sectoral social dialogue committee meetings. Instead, the Commission intends to outsource this task to the sectoral social partners via the submission of Commission-funded projects. We strongly oppose this outsourcing plan, which creates much uncertainty about the future funding of structural meetings. It would create a massive administrative burden for social partners and could cause competition between the social partners. It would also weaken the Commission's political responsibility for social dialogue.

The proposal to strengthen EU social dialogue has garnered widespread attention and caused a united front among the ETUFs and a majority of employers. The ETUC has also expressed its apprehension regarding the proposal. In February, concerned ETUFs and employers sent a joint letter to Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Schmit, which has yet to receive a response from the Commissioners. A meeting with the Commission administration is scheduled for 24 April. If the Commission does not confirm that it will reverse its plans to outsource the organisation of social dialogue at this meeting, this will be extremely disappointing. To ensure the preservation and investment in social dialogue, Commission President Von der Leyen should take action, as she has repeatedly stated in her State of the Union speeches.

Strengthening social dialogue in Europe is a worthy pursuit, and we appreciate the Commission's recognition of its importance. However, social dialogue cannot be strengthened via goodwill alone. The Commission must prioritise defined criteria and strong logistical and financial support if it truly wants to deliver on its promise of strengthening social dialogue. We urge the Commission to reconsider its position and work towards a more collaborative approach to social dialogue in the EU.