Industrial Relations in Central and Eastern Europe: Challenges Ahead of Economic Recovery

The Center for Economic Development (CED), Bulgaria, and its partners Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO), Croatia, European College of University of Tartu, Estonia, Center for Research and Policy Making (CRPM), FYROM, Institute of  Public Affairs (IPA), Poland, Institute for Public Policy (IPP), Romania and Research Institute for Labor and Social Affairs (RILSA), Czech Republic continue their efforts to improve national expertise in the field of Industrial Relations in Central and Eastern European countries.

The proposed action will attempt to reinvigorate national industrial relations systems in new EU member states and candidate country through evidence-based comparative research and advocacy in order to achieve higher economic growth and competitiveness.

The rationale of the proposed action is related to the current state of the industrial relations in new EU member states. As in other countries, the economic crisis had negative impact on social dialogue as established processes in the face of reduced demand for labour in the private sector and austerity-driven cutbacks in the public sector. Despite such setbacks, social dialogue is the major mechanism through which change in the workplace is achieved, where the interests and the goals of workers and employers can be expressed, and where solutions to issues of mutual concern are negotiated.

The EU Commission regards social dialogue as a way of designing and implementing economic and labour market reforms at national and EU level, aimed at boosting competitiveness. The same reasoning applies to new EU member states which need to speed up structural reforms and unleash their growth potential. In most cases social dialogue should be revitalised and started again as driver in shaping and improving employment and working and living conditions in the respective countries.

Industrial relations in new EU Member States, with the exception of Slovenia, are characterised  by weaker trade unions, a lack of employer willingness to organise in employers’ associations, a lower incidence of bipartite collective bargaining, lower bargaining coverage, greater government in social partnership and as a whole – greater reliance on public authorities to interfere in industrial relations and solve the problems and conflicts. There is a need to revitalise national industrial relations systems and support their actions in order to promote and restore consensus to ensure the long term sustainability of the economic and social reforms underway.

While several industrial relations indicators in new EU Member States differ from those in EU-15, there is also diversity in national industrial relations features across themselves. The action will include national detailed studies of the main institutional pillars in modern EU context: strong or reasonably established social partners; solidarity wage setting based on collective bargaining at sectoral or higher level of coordination; fairly generalised arrangements of information, consultation and in some cases co-determination at the company level; and institutionalised practice of tripartite policy-making.

Although tripartism is formally established across new EU Member States, the real capacity to produce enforceable agreements varies according the country.  Bulgaria and Romania had more experience with tripartite social dialogue then the Baltic states. But its importance declined over the 2000s.

The main research question associated with the proposed action is the following: What are the challenges ahead of the economic recovery in the national industrial relations systems, what will be the future of social dialogue in new EU member states and a candidate country vis-à-vis economic governance process at EU level and industrial relations in old member states?

The proposed action has a strong research focus and a considerable analytical potential.

The key method of implementation is related to the application of a multi-dimensional approach towards the fulfillment of the action specific objectives, namely a mix of research, analysis, advocacy and visibility actions.

The research will focus on the following topics which will be analysed in details in the national reports and where possible – on a comparative basis: anti-crisis (recovery from the crisis) policies, pay moderation policies, migration policies, posting of workers, minimum wage and social dumping, reforms of social dialogue structures.

The analytical strategy has as a main component the foresight workshops (one per country). The main idea is to diagnose shortly the current state of industrial relations and to forecast plus to discuss possible scenarios/options for the future on the basis of the diagnosis and social partners’ strategic goals. A key representatives of social partners and social dialogue experts should participate in those meetings. The advantage of such workshops would be to encourage social partners to apply a more strategic and holistic way of thinking, and to show that there are more common goals that differences. Currently, in most countries the public debate lacks such broader perspective and engages a lot of effort on less strategic issues and overestimates divergence in attitudes towards many economic and social policy issues. The applicants consider the foresight workshops as a guarantee for innovativeness and added value of the proposed action as compared to previous actions.

In addition, focus groups discussions and in-depth interviews will be carried out. The participants will be selected as to ensure representativeness of all social partners and across industrial sectors.

The composition of project applicants is well balanced representing a sufficient number of countries with different size, economic performance, industrial relations systems, social dialogue structures, etc.