The important role played by unions

Union structures vary substantially across countries. A recent European report (European Commission, 2010, Table 1.1) showed a spectrum from Austria, Ireland, Latvia and the United Kingdom - each with a single trade union confederation - to France, with nine confederations of which four were limited to the public sector. In 16 of the 27 member countries there were unions organised on political grounds, and in 10 there were unions organised on religious grounds.

Table 3.1. The structure of social dialogue in selected EU member countries

Country

Structure

Austria

Centralised

Bulgaria

Centralised

Czech Republic

Centralised

Greece

Centralised

Luxembourg

Centralised

Poland

Centralised

Slovenia

Centralised

France

Largely centralised

Hungary

Largely centralised

Ireland

Largely centralised

Malta

Largely centralised

Portugal

Largely centralised

Spain

Largely centralised

Belgium

Both centralised and decentralised

Denmark

Both centralised and decentralised

Finland

Both centralised and decentralised

Germany

Both centralised and decentralised

Italy

Both centralised and decentralised

Latvia

Both centralised and decentralised

Lithuania

Both centralised and decentralised

Romania

Both centralised and decentralised

Slovak Republic

Both centralised and decentralised

Sweden

Both centralised and decentralised

United Kingdom

Largely decentralised

Estonia

Decentralised

Netherlands

Decentralised

Source: EUPAN (2008), “Comparative analysis of the social dialogue in central public administrations of the European Union member states”, report prepared by EIPA and published by the French Presidency of the European Union.

Union membership also varies substantially across countries. The European report mentioned above showed a range from about 70% in Denmark, Finland and Sweden to 10% or less in Estonia, France and Lithuania (European Commission, 2010, Chart 1.3). A EUPAN review (EUPAN, 2008, Chart 1) showed a range for the public services from about 90% in the three Nordic countries to around 10% in five Baltic and Eastern European countries (see Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9. Trade union density, 2008

Note: The vertical lines represent a range, for example an estimated 10-40% of employees and civil servants in Slovenia are members of a trade union organisation. Precise data for Belgium and France are not available, due to confidentiality of union membership. Precise data for the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg are not available. Data for Portugal is considered as sensitive where the Constitution opposes gathering of figures.

Source: EUPAN (2008), “Comparative analysis of the social dialogue in central public administrations of the European Union member states”, report prepared by EIPA and published by the French Presidency of the European Union.

The same is true for how centralised or decentralised trade unions are. The European report (European Commission, 2010, Chart 1.1) shows that they are extremely centralised in Austria (index over 0.8) compared to around 0.5 in Germany and the Netherlands and below 0.15 in France and the United Kingdom.

These differences more or less determine the differences in national industrial relations climates and the character of the social dialogue at the national level. The social dialogue is most established and constructive in countries where trade unions have many members and national confederations are able to co-ordinate trade unions’ actions in different sectors and at different levels. It is, on the other hand, most vulnerable and least constructive in countries with weak and fragmented trade union movements.

Governments can affect the evolution of public trade union structures through the way they act in relation to existing trade unions. The strong membership in and co-operation among public sector unions in the Nordic countries is, for example, supported by public employers that insist on signing coherent national collective agreements with all established trade union confederations and that discourage union fractionalism. A more recent example is the federal Government in Brazil, which has set up a “national negotiating table” with the major trade union confederations representing federal employees (OECD, 2010a).

 
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