Impact of the crisis on social dialogue in southern Europe and Ireland

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.1.02 (Tower Two)
Youcef Ghellab, International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
Aidan Regan, School of Politics, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland; University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin, Ireland
Sarah Doyle, International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
In 2012, the changing role of industrial relations systems throughout Europe sparked the launch of a joint ILO/European Commission (EC) research project. The aim of which was to analyse the impact of fiscal austerity policies during the crisis, on the labour market and industrial relations in the Eurozone periphery, and to assess the role played by social dialogue. Research was conducted through a series of national comparative studies in Greece, Ireland, Italy Portugal and Spain, which subsequently served as background material for a number of capacity building seminars that took place in 2012-2013. These seminars brought together national level social partners with members of the so-called Troika (ECB, IMF, EC), in order to discuss policy responses.

This research has suggested that two distinct phases of the crisis took place, which led to varying effects on the role of social dialogue. The first phase (2008-2010), gave precedence to the importance of tripartite consultations with the social partners through the negotiation of early economic and labour market reform packages. Conversely from 2010 onwards, unmanageable fiscal deficits and rapidly rising unemployment rates led some governments to view social dialogue as an obstacle to the implementation of fast and effective reforms.

The effects have been well document and in short, led to a rapid decentralisation of collective bargaining, deregulation of labour laws, and weakening of social dialogue institutions. This all against a backdrop of increased strikes, street protests and deteriorating social climate illustrated through rising levels of poverty and inequality. The inherent link between higher levels of collective bargaining coverage and lower wage inequalities, suggests however, that these effects will not be reversible unless collective bargaining is restored to its proper place. For the ILO, effective tripartite consultation and respect for the role of the social partners are crucial in shaping appropriate and equitable policy responses, and in ensuring their effective implementation.

While the crisis has brought with it a departure from traditional forms of tripartite cooperation between governments and social partners, it has, more recently, led to a greater realisation and awareness of the importance of social dialogue institutions and processes as a precondition for future growth – as evidenced through the revitalisation of social dialogue in some countries. This paper aims to briefly document the changes that occurred in industrial relations during the second phase of the crisis, as well as to analyse the changing attitudes towards social dialogue as a necessary tool for restoring growth in Europe, as it slowly begins to exit the crisis. The big question remains however, whether these changes made to tripartite and bipartite mechanism of social dialogue will be reversible in the future. 

Papadakis, P. and Ghellab, Y. 2014. The Governance of Policy Reforms in southern Europe and Ireland: Social dialogue actors and institutions in times of crisis, (ILO: Geneva).

International Labour Organization (ILO). 2013. The Oslo Declaration: Restoring confidence in jobs and growth, Ninth European Regional Meeting, Oslo, Norway, 8–11 April.

Hayter, S. (2015),” Want to tackle inequality? Shore up collective bargaining”, 3 March, ILO. Available at: