European social dialogue still unknown to many workers

Transport is one of the sectors in which the social dialogue is most active. [Val Thoermer/Shutterstock]

More than 30 years after it was launched by Jacques Delors, the European social dialogue is still struggling to reach workers. This is the main finding of a detailed survey published this week by Humanis. EURACTIV France reports.

The Odoxa survey, published on Tuesday (9 January) on behalf of social protection group Humanis, found that the European social dialogue is like a bad phone line. The message gets through, but not consistently.

Carried out on a broad cross-section of French, German, British, Spanish and Italian workers between August and September 2017, the survey highlights the extent to which the European social dialogue is still misunderstood, despite its thirty-year history.

Remote work and parental leave

On average, just 8% of European workers said they have a perfect understanding of this cornerstone of the European social model, which includes discussion, negotiations and joint action by the social partners and, in certain cases, the participation of the authorities at the EU level.

On the other hand, 47% of workers were completely unaware of the social dialogue.

On closer inspection, only half of EU workers knew that rights as important as the maximum working time and parental leave are governed by European agreements. But nearly two-thirds were unaware that the European social dialogue also covers remote work and the fight against stress.

This lack of understanding is particularly flagrant among French workers, 58% of whom have no idea what the social dialogue is. For Émile Leclerc, the director of studies at Oxoda, this is something of a middle finger to history; after all, Frenchman Jaques Delors was the main initiator of the programme in 1985, during his stint at the helm of the European Commission.

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“While it appears to be misunderstood, the social dialogue is no less tangible in Europe. It is very active in certain sectors, such as transport, construction and agriculture, to promote labour mobility. It is also very dynamic within Europe’s big companies,” said Agnès Colonval, the deputy director for external relations and European affairs at Humanis.

French workers remain suspicious

In France, this ignorance has a predictable side effect: scepticism. French workers are also the hardest to convince of the need for the European social dialogue. While just over half (51%, compared to an average of 63%) accept that it is an effective way to harmonise social standards and fight social dumping in Europe, 59% feel it has little or no impact on their own working conditions.

Elsewhere, workers are more positive: 62% of British and 61% of Spanish employees believe the social dialogue has an important impact. Finally, a clear majority of Spanish (69%) and Italian workers (74%) believe the European social dialogue has improved their working conditions and would like it to be developed as far as possible.

German workers are most fulfilled

But German and French workers, on the other hand, believe the social dialogue should be above all a national affair. Germany’s workforce is both the most satisfied in Europe (80%) and by far the happiest with the quality of the social dialogue within their companies, which 83% rated as good or very good. Like two-thirds of British and Spanish workers, 61% of Germans value their personal development at work.

In France, the story is quite different. Workers not only believe the social dialogue in their companies is conflictual, but they are the only workforce in Europe that believes the situation is deteriorating. For Colonval, there is a plausible explanation: “The social dialogue is a reality in France, it is well integrated into the country’s social protection mechanisms. If the French are the most critical, it is probably because they are the most demanding.”

Commission seeks to revive battered social dialogue

In a move to give new impetus to social partners’ relations, seen as instrumental in the new economic governance set up, the European Commission launched on Thursday (5 March) a new start for social dialogue.

  • March 2018: Publication of the third annual report on the state of the social dialogue, by Humanis.

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