Future of Work – Challenges and opportunities for social partners and labour institutions

The profound change sweeping through the world of work involves four major drivers: technological innovation, demographic shifts, climate change and globalization. It poses serious challenges, but also opens new opportunities for social dialogue and the role of the social partners, together with public authorities, in the governance of the world of work. While social dialogue institutions and mechanisms, including collec- tive bargaining, have long been a feature of European Union (EU) countries, some- times for decades, questions have been raised about the ability of social dialogue to rise to the new challenges and opportunities, and deliver sustainable socio-economic outcomes. These questions have been raised at a time when trade unions and employ- ers’ organizations are seeking to adapt to the massive transformations in the global organization of labour and production, and labour administrations, on their part, are struggling to cope with the challenge of enhancing labour market performance and workplace compliance.
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) ‘Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work’ (ILO 2019) emphasized that social dialogue, including collective bargaining and tripartite cooperation, contributes to successful policy and decision- making in its member states. The Resolution adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June 2018 underlined that social dialogue and tripartism are essential for democracy and good governance (ILO 2018). Also, it stipulated that ‘social dialogue plays an important role in shaping the future of work, taking into account particular trends of globalization, technology, demography and climate change’ (ILO 2018).
Key policy statements and documents emanating from various EU institutions also stress the critical importance of social dialogue and the involvement of social partners in policy-making as an important governance tool (Eurofound 2019). For instance, the European Commission (EC) stated that:
an effective and well-functioning social dialogue should be fostered to promote welfare in the EU. This can only be achieved by promoting social partners’ capacity, by respecting their auton- omy and strengthening their role in the design and implementation of reforms and policies and by actively involving the social partners at all stages of policymaking and implementation in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights. (EC 2017, p. 59)
The EC also emphasizes that ‘Social dialogue is rooted in the history of the European continent, and this distinguishes the Union from most other regions of the world. Accordingly, in its various forms in the different Member States, social dialogue is a component of democratic government and also of economic and social modernization’ (see EC 2002, p. 6).
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit hard most countries around the world, includ- ing the EU, has further highlighted the critical role of social dialogue in helping govern- ments and social partners to address complex situations (ILO 2020). In many European countries, bipartite and tripartite initiatives have been launched to contain the virus and to mitigate its social and economic effects on workers and enterprises, and to promote a safe return to work.
Against this backdrop the ILO and the EC decided to launch a new project aimed at analysing and documenting how the social partners in EU countries are endeavouring to adapt to these changes and what challenges they have been facing in this regard. The project seeks also to identify the many good practices of social dialogue that are emerging in various countries, as well as the action of public authorities aimed at enhancing the role of social dialogue, including collective bargaining, in tackling the new challenges and opportunities in the new world of work, while at the same time supporting the autonomy of the social partners.
This project builds on earlier collaboration between the ILO and the EC in the field of industrial relations and social dialogue,1 and takes a longer-term perspective with a view to strengthening the social partners’ knowledge of long-term trends in the changing world of work, notably by facilitating mutual learning between them.


In the interviews carried out within the framework of this project, the social partners often emphasized the role of national social dialogue institutions as platforms for policy concertation on issues of national relevance. They thus provide an important framework for further bipartite social dialogue and collective bargaining rounds at lower levels, namely, the sector, region or enterprise.
To complement the experts’ thematic and national reports, we carried out a survey among the national social partners in selected European countries to collect their views on the role and impact of national social dialogue institutions, and their capacity to enable them to respond to the current and future challenges and opportunities brought about by a changing world of work.
The survey targeted the representative employers’ and workers’ organizations in the 27 EU countries plus candidate and potential candidate countries, making 34 countries in total. We received 41 answers to this questionnaire from both employers’ and trade union organizations (22 trade unions and 19 employers). The information collected is interest- ing. First, it helped us to better understand the complex landscape of these social dia- logue institutions, which are generally tripartite in nature and take the form of a tripartite council, committee or board (this format was confirmed by 85 per cent of respondents), and specialized committees, such as on vocational training, wage setting and health and safety issues (reported by 86 per cent of respondents) (see Figure 1.2).

In a number of countries, there are also social dialogue institutions that are more bipartite in nature, omitting the government (reported by 39 per cent of respondents). While the social dialogue institutions are generally composed of the three main sides (the government, trade unions and employer organizations), they have also been extended in some instances to other organizations, for instance, those from civil society (reported by 36 per cent of respondents). The feedback from trade unions and employers was similar, because they both selected tripartite bodies and specialized committees as the prevailing institutions of social dialogue at national level, with the slight difference that a higher per- centage of employers reported tripartite and multipartite bodies, while a higher percent- age of unions reported bipartite social dialogue, as did other institutions, such as the social security management committee in Belgium, the Medical Insurance Council in France, the Work-related Accidents Fund in Greece, sectoral committees in Poland, ILO councils (as in Sweden or Hungary) or social and economic councils (Luxembourg, Italy and others).
We then asked respondents to report how much they felt that these institutions allowed them to be involved and exert influence on a number of issues. Figure 1.3 summarizes the results, and highlights their feeling that these institutions mainly helped them to be fully or largely influential (58 per cent in total) in areas such as social dialogue and collective bargaining. Other topics include social protection (unemployment, social security and pensions) and health and safety issues (47 per cent reporting a large or full influence), thanks to a number of specialized tripartite committees on these issues. Wages are another traditional area in which tripartite institutions help social partners to make themselves heard (43 per cent rated this influence as substantial), and in particular the adjustment of the statutory minimum wage. More recently, the social partners have increasingly been involved in labour market policies and regulations, over which 43 per cent of respondents declared that they have a big influence, with 40 per cent claiming a big influence over skills development and training programmes.

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  1. Pingback: Future of Work – Initiatives at O*NET Resource Center | Job Market Monitor - March 22, 2022

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