Are workers and firms well represented in social dialogue? In many countries, affiliation rates to social partners (employer associations and trade unions) have been decreasing for decades. However, social dialogue still regulates labour conditions of a significant part of firms and workers through collective agreements and, in some cases, their extensions. The result of this social dialogue generally includes conditions over wages, working time, training, and many other issues, with important effects on the labour market and the economy.
This note summarises the research presented in a policy workshop held last week in Brussels. The studies were conducted under the ‘Economic Analysis of Collective Bargaining Extensions’ (CoBExt) project, funded by the European Union, and focused on the cases of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
In my introduction, I presented a comparison of collective bargaining (CB) across the four countries. Despite generally low trade union density rates, particularly in the private sector, these countries exhibit very high CB coverage, precisely because of widespread and nearly automatic (explicit or implicit) extensions. The exceptions to these practices were Greece and Portugal but only during their adjustment programmes, when extensions were entirely suspended (Greece) or made conditional on representativeness criteria similar to other EU Member States (Portugal). In Greece, firm-level CB agreements were also boosted through the suspension of the favourability principle, which allowed for greater differentiation in working conditions across firms.