The establishing of a European industrial relations system. Still under construction or chasing a chimera?

Publication Date04 Jun 2018
Pages600-616
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/ER-07-2017-0151
AuthorSergio González Begega,Mona Aranea
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
The establishing of a European
industrial relations system
Still under construction or chasing a chimera?
Sergio González Begega and Mona Aranea
Department of Sociology, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine European Union (EU) industrial relations in their
development over time. It describes and analyzes their main constituent parts, which are deployed along four
interlinked institutional dimensions: tripartite concertation; cross-industry social dialogue; sectoral social
dialogue; and employee representation and negotiation at the transnational company level. The focus lies
strictly on the emerging EU layer of industrial relations, which is common to the different Member States and
not on comparative European industrial relations.
Design/methodology/approach The paper is conceptual in nature. It considers the differences and
mutually interdependent legal and political processes, policies and institutions between EU industrial
relations and national industrial relations.
Findings The findings substantiate that EU industrial relations constitute an incomplete but perfectly
traceable transnational reality distinct from industrial relations in the Member States. EU industrial relations
are not to supersede but to supplement national industrial relations. Neither the EU institutional framework
nor the European social partners have the mandate, legitimation or desire to perform a more ambitious role.
Research limitations/implications More empirically oriented research would further support the
findings in the paper.
Originality/value The paper presents a conceptual review based on a comprehensive and critical reading
of the literature on EU industrial relations. It also puts labor strategies at the forefront of the analysis in
corporate relocation.
Keywords European Union, Industrial relations, European framework agreements, European social dialogue,
European Works Councils,Tripartite concertation, Transnational companyagreements
Paper type Conceptual paper
Introduction
For the last four decades, the European Union (EU) has embarked on a rather fragmented
attempt to establish an institutional framework for EU industrial relations. Early but soon
discontinued initiatives in the late 1970s were followed in the mid-1980s by a more enduring
push to create genuine EU industrial relations institutions and dynamics. The Val Duchesse
meeting (1985) and, more decisively, the signing of the Social Chapter attached to the Treaty
of Maastricht (1992), motivated an extensive process of institution-building which formed
the foundation of the current system of EU industrial relations. Following to the launching
of European Social Dialogue (ESD) between the European Commission and the social
partners, industrial relations at EU-level reached an early milestone with the adoption of the
Directive on information and consultation of employees in community-scale undertakings in
1994. European Works councils (EWCs) constituted the first genuine institution of
European industrial relations and a paramount reference to scholars, practitioners and
decision-makers.
EU industrial relations are multifaceted and can only be adequately understood in the
context of the political interactions and power relations between EU political authorities,
Employee Relations
Vol. 40 No. 4, 2018
pp. 600-616
© Emerald PublishingLimited
0142-5455
DOI 10.1108/ER-07-2017-0151
Received 6 July 2017
Revised 4 August 2017
Accepted 18 August 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm
The research was financially supported by the Changing Employment Project. Marie Curie
Actions-Networks for Initial Training (ITN). Reference Number FP7-PEOPLE-2012-ITN-317321.
The authors would like to thank Professors Holm-Detlev Köhler and Paul Stewart for their helpful and
constructive comments that greatly contributed to improving the quality of the manuscript.
600
ER
40,4
trade unions and employers associations within the framework of various intertwined
industrial relations arenas. These include tripartite concertation with the European
social partners through diverse EU socio-economic governance mechanisms, such as the
European Employment Strategy, the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) and, more
recently, the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment (TSSGE) and the
European Semester; cross-industry and sectoral social dialogue institutions; and
employee rights for information, consultation, involvement and negotiation at
transnational company level. EU industrial relations are collectively and principally
defined by the regulating role played by the social partners. Most Western European
national industrial traditions are based on similar common features, which include a high
level of interest organization, political involvement of trade unions and employers
associations, centralized collective bargaining systems and extended legal intervention on
behalf of employees.
The construction of the EU has been mainly driven by market-building measures while
market-correcting measures have been of second-order importance. However, the EU has
been able to put in place a social dimension to mere economic integration. This capacity
limits but does not entirely remove, the corrosive effects of cross-border movements of
capital, labor, goods and services on national labour markets by establishing a common,
minimum floor of standards and rights for many issues(Marginson, 2016, p. 1041). EU
labor law and rulings by the EU Court of Justice cover regulation in the areas of
fundamental rights, including free movement of workers, non-discrimination at the
workplace, working and employment conditions, health and safety, company restructuring
and employee information and consultation rights. The framework of laws and rules
stemming from European institutions contributes to shaping industrial relations across
Member States on highly controversial issues, reflecting the principal conflict between free
market and social protection and economic and social integration, all concepts fundamental
to the EU(Rönnmar, 2008, p. xxxvii).
For most scholars and practitioners, EU industrial relations constitute a still emerging
but already recognizable common transnational dimension, supplementary to national
industrial relations in the Member States. While EU labor law aims at a partial
harmonization of the different national labor law regimes and regulations by setting
minimum standards for working and employment conditions and information and
consultation rights in accordance with Article 153 of the EU Treaty, the European industrial
relations level has acquired a logic and dynamics of its own. The interdependence and
heteronomy between national and EU industrial relations has been captured in a well-
known metaphor that illustrates the complex relationship between the local, national and
transnational levels. Industrial relations in the EU have developed into a multi-level system
of governancewhich embraces multiple interlocking institutions, actors and processes
located at different coordinates (Marginson and Sisson, 2004, p. 25). The Europeanization of
industrial relations has not resulted, however, in the erosion or displacing of the national
level which remains the dominant locus in industrial relations. Rather, its effect has been to
redraw and increase the complexity of the industrial relations map, adding new levels,
actors and institutions and creating new horizontal and vertical relationships and
interdependences’” (Keune and Marginson, 2013, p. 474).
The aim of the paper is to assess the main EU industrial relations institutions in their
development over time. It will describe and analyze their main constituent parts, which
are deployed along four interlinked dimensions: tripartite concertation; cross-industry social
dialogue; sectoral social dialogue; and employee representation and negotiation at the
transnational company level. The paper will also consider the differences and mutually
interdependent legal and political processes, policies and institutions between EU industrial
relations and national industrial relations. The focus lies strictly on the emerging EU layer
601
European
industrial
relations
system

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