Looking back at 2023: social dialogue returns to the fore

The year 2023 saw legislators, employers and trade unions agree to strengthen the role of social dialogue, both at company and European institution level. All are convinced of its importance, all the more so against the backdrop of crisis and environmental and digital transformation. This has given rise to dedicated initiatives, such as to strengthen European works councils and company agreements at national and global level.

Through Antoine Piel. Published on 16 January 2024 Ă  16h57 - Update on 17 January 2024 Ă  12h23

At the beginning of the year, Brussels presented a recommendation to strengthen social dialogue, in response to the decline in trade union membership and the rate of coverage by collective bargaining, as well as the difficulties in bringing this to life at European level. This initiative heralded several others that followed throughout the year, including the process underway to revise the directive on European works councils. Long called for by trade unions, the initiative is based on a framework deemed insufficiently precise, limiting the scope of consultation of these bodies. The European Commission is due to present a draft text in January 2024, following consultations launched in April and the absence of agreement between social partners.

Ups and downs

Social dialogue has also found a place in several instances of European policymaking. Discussions with the social partners, among other stakeholders, will be required prior to the drafting of social and environmental due diligence plans by large companies. Similarly, while the final version of the AI Act is not yet known, MEPs have added an obligation to consult employee representatives before any AI system affecting workers is introduced. Conversely the directive on platform workers, on which the co-legislators had reached a compromise, has been put on hold. It provided for negotiations with the social partners on algorithmic management. Even more embarrassing, the bipartite negotiations for a European framework agreement on remote work and the right to disconnect have failed. Despite their joint commitment in 2022, the social partners have not succeeded, and the prospect of the first negotiations leading to a directive since 2010 were left dead in the water. The Commission is now set to take the matter in hand.

Companies concerned

At company level, several entities have negotiated measures with their trade unions to strengthen social dialogue. In Spain, even before the European directive was passed, Axa recognised the right of its employees to be informed about the use of AI, by signing a collective agreement. In Italy, the energy company Acea has set up a participation committee that will give employee representatives a role in defining the group’s strategy. In addition, the French retirement home operator Clariane (formerly Korian) has signed a European charter on the principles of social dialogue, which should strengthen social dialogue at European, national and local level. Finally, several groups have signed or renewed global agreements linking them to global union federations and containing commitments to international social dialogue. In the case of Safran, SociĂ©tĂ© GĂ©nĂ©rale and CrĂ©dit Agricole, these have led to the creation of global social protection standards.

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