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Going Up the High Road: Rethinking the Role of Social Dialogue to Link Welfare and Competitiveness

SUB PROGRAMME II: Improving Expertise in the Field of Industrial Relations
SUBMITTED BY: Marco Biagi Foundation, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy) BUDGET HEADING:
DURATION: 25 November 2013 – 24 November 2014


Project description

The proposed action aims to promote social dialogue in the design, implementation and administration of welfare programmes linked to labour flexibility. In this way, it is intended to reaffirm the role of social dialogue as an essential part of the multi-level system of European governance, reinforcing one of the main features of the European social model, that the global crisis has put under severe strain. The argument underlying the proposal is that in order to enhance the virtuous link between flexicurity and occupational welfare, actions relating to work organization are needed rather than a simple “externalization” of social protection policies from the government to the social partners (in connection with public spending constraints). This proposal starts from the assumption that social dialogue can be a key player in promoting the convergence of flexibility and occupational welfare policies, given its pivotal role in determining the negotiated reorganization of work, by means of collective bargaining, bilateral bodies and other forms of social dialogue.


As pointed out in the report on Industrial Relations in Europe 2012, in the early phase of the recession, governments and social partners worked together to mitigate the negative impact on employment. Social dialogue was seen as a useful, flexible and efficient mechanism for promoting resilience and generating social consensus in the face of the crisis. However, the deepening of the crisis has resulted in changes in social dialogue, that has become more conflictual in many countries and sectors.


Taking as its starting point the position in the Industrial Relations in Europe 2012 report, that social dialogue is still relevant for addressing the crisis and creating favourable conditions for growth and employment, this project aims to promote an innovative methodology to foster mutual trust and understanding between the social partners, to activate a bottom-up process reaffirming their role as actors in the European governance system. A further innovation consists in the analysis of subject matters that have so far received scant attention, in particular, workers’ empowerment and vocational training programmes, as well as social dialogue practices with particularly significant results in terms of work-life balance. The focus on this topic is in line with the attempts by the EU institutions to encourage the social partners to keep gender equality on the agenda as a horizontal priority, and also consistent with the designation of 2014 as the year of work-life balance.


The actions we propose aim to provide support for the social partners in releasing their potential in the implementation of policies that give rise to a virtuous combination of labour flexibility and occupational welfare. The support we intend to provide to the social partners is twofold. It consists on the one hand of developing the cultural and cognitive resources at their disposal by means of in-depth insight into the issues at stake, in order to raise their awareness about the potential underlying their implementation and the problems that may arise. On the other hand, it consists of facilitating the interconnection and the exchange of information among the partners, with the purpose of comparing experience, enhancing mutual learning and benchmarking the best practices with a view to transferability.


The lack of consensus among social partners on the interpretation of certain key concepts in flexicurity is, according to some commentators, the reason for the increasingly adversarial attitude associated with the implementation of employment policies at European and national levels (Voss 2011). Hence, a more objective set of interpretative tools of the kind it is intended to develop should foster mutual understanding and build the common ground of consensus that is necessary to boost the added value of flexicurity, i.e. the capacity to inspire “broad agreements that cover and interconnect measures dealing with a broad range of labour market and welfare issues” (Keune 2012).


For this purpose, two specific objectives have been identified. The first consists of the development of a more innovative methodological toolkit than in previous research, in order to correct imperfect conceptualizations and definitions of the relevant issues, and provide the theoretical framework necessary to carry out a proper evaluation of the experiences under examination (see also the next section E.6).


The second objective consists of facilitating the circulation of information about practices currently adopted by the social partners in the countries involved, as well as at the transnational EU level, raising awareness about the conditions leading to the adoption of certain models and schemes rather than others (such as the legal and industrial relations framework, corporate culture, economic priorities), and besides, about the gains that have been achieved and the problems that have been encountered. International conferences, the circulation of national and comparative working papers and the establishment of a web platform for an ongoing networking among the members of the working group and the associated stakeholders seems to be a suitable methods for inspiring mutual trust, solidarity and the promotion of problem-solving among the partners. These are generally considered to be the prerequisites for an efficient and balanced flexicurity model, that cannot rely on a dogmatic one-size-fits- all model, but rather on a more pragmatic approach that, respecting specific national conditions, is grounded on a widespread climate of mutual trust among the players, low rates of conflict, a capable leadership and a high degree of democratization and institutionalization of industrial relations (Industrial Relations in Europe 2012, Trampush 2010).


The actions planned for the implementation of the project consist of field and desk research and international workshops and conferences, focused on a comparison of experiences of social dialogue in European countries that belong to different “models of capitalism” and industrial relations traditions. The choice of the countries involved reflects the structural differences that have been identified in the literature as regards the models of capitalism, models of flexicurity and industrial relations and national welfare systems. Participants include countries belonging to the Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, Continental, Mediterranean and Eastern European models of flexicurity as characterized recently in the Commission Staff Working Document Open, dynamic and inclusive labour markets (SWD(2012) 97 final). Similarly, the selection of the participants reflects the diversity of industrial relations systems across the EU with regard to collective bargaining structures and the degree of coordination between the bargaining levels, union density and collective bargaining coverage rates, and the degree of government involvement in tripartite relations.


As for the level and dimension of the players, particular attention will be devoted to the social partners at plant or local level, as matters of labour flexibility, organizational flexibility and occupational welfare are mainly dealt with at the company or local territorial level. However, in some countries (e.g. in Italy, in the banking sector) at least a general framework at sectoral level has been laid down, and as a result the sectoral level will also be taken into consideration. Moreover, a special focus will be on the arrangements at the transnational level, especially within multinational enterprises, since the various arrangements and agreements at this level reveal a growing qualitative and quantitative importance in fields related to the topic of work organization, anticipation of change and equal opportunities.


As regards the sectors, the project has a naturally intersectoral scope, due to the nature of the issues that it intends to address. The sectors that will be analysed include metalworking, chemical, textile and construction. More generally, the analysis will be primarily directed towards sectors where social partners have shown a more proactive attitude in terms of combining work organization arrangements, flexibility and occupational welfare schemes. However, and in order to ensure a comprehensive approach, our investigation will also consider the sectors suffering problems in relation to occupational and welfare issues. In this regard, various sectors will be analyzed on the basis of the different factors determining the bargaining outcomes, such as the distinction between high knowledge-intensive and low knowledge-intensive sectors, and the distinction between agreements reached after conflict and power struggles between the parties, and the agreements resulting from collaborative relations aimed at the promotion of shared interests and at the maximization of the competitive advantage.


The project results will have multiplier effects with respect to social partners from Central and Eastern Europe, where social dialogue actions in the field of crisis- related policies have shown a still too high dependency on the government. . In this regard, the actions of the project, which are aimed at promoting the exchange of information and mutual learning practices, are expected to foster the international cooperation of social partners from CEE countries with other national and EU-level social partner organizations, thereby stimulating the development of cross- border solidarity. This in turn will contribute to strengthen their structural position and to develop the additional capacity needed to produce sustainable results in consolidating social dialogue and national industrial relations in CEE countries.


From a broader point of view, the project findings on virtuous social dialogue practices linking flexicurity to occupational welfare might be of interest for the European institutions and social partners involved in the implementation of the official roadmap, which the European Council is expected to release in June 2013 and which is expected to add “social dimension” and “solidarity mechanisms” to the current policy framework. In addition, the findings can be made available to the European Commission and other research centres, thereby promoting further research, including the preparation of general reports on industrial relations in Europe.


Roles and responsibilities

The Marco Biagi Foundation (Italy)

Leading project organization. Its task is to coordinate the transnational partnership and ensure the coordination of all the tasks related to the project implementation activities, both from the academic and administrative points of view. In particular, it is responsible for the communication with the European Commission and all the partners involved, budget management, drafting of the final report, dissemination of information. Certain members of staff will perform desk and field research with particular reference to the issues of social dialogue experiences related to work- life balance and training. It will also organise the Second International Workshop (Modena) and the related internal meeting.


University of Trento (Italy)
Website: http://www.unitn.it

Acts as co-applicant. Its tasks include the organization of the internal meeting aimed at the presentation of the project to the participants, discussion of the workplan and academic introduction to the research topic. Other tasks include research, with particular reference to the theoretical framework and the social dialogue experiences related to internal flexibility, and dissemination of the project results.


Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (UK)
Website: http://www.anglia.ac.uk/ruskin/en/home.html

Acts as co-applicant. Its main tasks are the organization of kick-off conference and the related internal meeting, desk and field research and dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners and other stakeholders.


Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain)
Website: http://www.uc3m.es/Home

Act as co-applicant. Among the other tasks are the research and dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners and other stakeholders.


Institute of Economic and Social Research of Emilia Romagna Region – IRES (Italy)
Website: http://www.ireser.it

Act as co-applicant. Considering its consolidated experience in the sphere of industrial relations with a particular focus on welfare issues, it is responsible for research activity in this area, with particular reference to the coverage of transnational bargaining issues. In addition it will represent a communication point with the local social partners and disseminate project results.


Eötvös Loránd (ELTE) University (Hungary)
Website: http://www.elte.hu/en

Acts as co-applicant. Among the attributed tasks is the organisation of the Third International Conference (Budapest) and the related internal meeting, research, dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners, social partners and academics from some other Central and Eastern European Countries (such as the Czech Republic and Poland) and other stakeholders.


University of Tartu (Estonia)
Website: http://www.ut.ee/en

Acts as co-applicant. Among the attributed tasks is the organisation of the Fourth International Conference (Tallinn) and the related internal meeting, research, dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners, social partners and academics from the other Baltic States (Latvia and Lithuania) and other stakeholders.


Соnfederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria – CITUB (Bulgaria)
Website: http://www.citub.net/

Acts as co-applicant. Among the other tasks are the research and dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners and other stakeholders. Considering that Bulgaria is a transition economy it is expected to contribute to the establishing of contacts with the representatives from other countries with a transition economy.


University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
Website: http://www.gu.se/english

Acts as co-applicant. Among the other tasks are the research and dissemination of the project results and networking with national social partners, social partners and academics from other Scandinavian countries and other stakeholders.


European Association of Paritarian Institutions of Social Protection – AEIP (Belgium)
Website: http://www.aeip.net

The European Association of Paritarian Institutions represents the social protection institutions jointly managed by social partners (paritarian institutions). It aims to promote the paritarian management of social protection at the EU level. The AEIP also promotes studies and dissemination of paritarism in the field of social protection through conferences, seminars and publications and representation at EU-level through close contacts and cooperation with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee. In our project it acts as an associate entity and it undertakes the task of promoting contacts with the European paritarian institutions and social partners. Considering its supranational status facilitating the involvement of a considerable number of social partners and other stakeholders, and the easily accessible location (Brussels), it is intended to hold the conclusive conference there.


Project management
Iacopo Senatori (project co-ordinator)
Carlotta Serra (financial co-ordinator)
Jenny Rivas (project administration)


Matteo Borzaga (University of Trento)
Ylenia Curzi (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia)
Davide Dazzi (IRES – Emilia Romagna)
Kenneth Dubin (Anglia Ruskin University)
Tommaso M. Fabbri (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia)
Bengt Furaker (University of Gothenburg)
Francisco Javier Gómez Abelleira (University of Carlos III of Madrid)
Sàra Hungler (ELTE)
Merle Muda (University of Tartu)
Ekaterina Ribarova (CITUB)
Riccardo Salomone (University of Trento)
Iacopo Senatori (Marco Biagi Foundation)

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