If social dialogue is to remain useful, it will have to adapt to changes in the labour market. New, atypical forms of work have blurred the lines of the employee-employer relationship. The representativeness of these relations is a key issue. EURACTIV.fr reports.
According to the definition given by the International Labour Organisation, when successful, social dialogue encourages good governance, advances social and industrial peace and stability and boosts economic progress. This shows how important social dialogue is to the ILO.
Social dialogue is also important for the European Commission, which has sought for thirty years to encourage its development at the European level, with varying levels of enthusiasm and outcomes.
For all the benefits it holds, the future of social dialogue is now overclouded by a series of challenges reflecting the changes observed in the labour market. In order to survive, it will have to adapt.
More questions than answers
“The future of social dialogue is one of the most important issues currently at the ILO,” said Konstantinos Papadakis, a senior social dialogue and governance specialist at the ILO.
“Part of the Future of Work Initiative, launched by the ILO in 2013, consists of organising social dialogue at a national level in 120 countries to look to the future. For the time being, there are more questions than answers, “added Papadakis who is also the author of a report on the state of social dialogue at a global level, which will be presented in June during the 107th session of the International Labour Conference.
In November 2017 the ILO organised in Athens a conference on social dialogue and the future of work, a testament to the relevance of the subject, and published a working document entitled “Le dialogue social: nouveaux enjeux, nouveaux défis”. Written by the economist Jacques Freyssinet, the research paper mentions three key dynamics: globalisation and financialisation, automation and digitisation, and finally ecological transition.
“These changes do not only change the agenda for social dialogue, they also upset the power balance between social actors and more broadly, between the different stakeholders in economic and social regulation,” wrote Freyssinet.
Atypical forms of work
“From the point of view of the ILO, one of the key challenges is the question of the employment relationship being challenged by the fragmentation of contractual relations and the physical separation that can now exist between employer and employee,” said Papadakis.
These atypical forms of work constitute a major problem for labour regulations and for social dialogue which they undermine. According to Papadakis, in order for social partners to adapt to these changes, they must achieve more effective representation of people currently left out of social dialogue because of their professional status.
“All over the world, trade unions are trying to organise these new categories of workers so that they can play a part”, he said. This is the case in Bolivia, Colombia or Moldova, where initiatives have been set up to cover informal workers through collective agreements.
In Canada, the Philippines, New-Zealand and South Africa, domestic work is now covered by such agreements. “We are also seeing efforts to organise workers through cooperatives and platforms, such as taxi drivers, which give them a collective voice to negotiate”, he added.
A drop in allocated resources
However, there are other challenges to overcome. “In the report that will be presented in June, we note a drop in the resources allocated by countries to the administrations concerned, such as labour inspectorates. However, what is needed is to strengthen the existing mechanisms and the capacity of actors in social dialogue, particularly the social partners, as well as an adjustment of labour law,” Papadakis concluded.