Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


PARTNERSHIP FOR THE CHANGE IN AN ENLARGED EUROPE—ENHANCING THE CONTRIBUTION OF SOCIAL DIALOGUE (12002/04)

Letter from Gerry Sutcliffe MP, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  Further to your letter of 13 October 2005[216] I am writing to formally update you on matters relating to this Communication.

  On 17 November 2005 the UK Presidency held a Conference on the European Social Dialogue that included a very useful exchange of experience and good practice on the implementation of European social partner agreements—with presentations made by social partners from the UK, France and Hungary as a basis for the discussion. This discussion highlighted the importance of effective implementation of such agreements and recognised that this could be achieved in very different ways according to the different traditions and structures that prevail in different Member States. I attach a copy of the Conference Report.

  There has, as yet, been no notification of the proposed ad hoc meeting of technical experts nor have there been further moves to establish a specific social dialogue expert group under the auspices of the committee of Directors General of Industrial Relations. I understand that the last Directors General meeting did not discuss the communication further; neither were the results of the legal study on transnational collective bargaining made available.

  I will of course inform the Committee if there are any further significant developments arising from the Communication.

21 March 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Gerry Sutcliffe MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 21 March which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 30 March.

  We note the absence of any significant progress on this long-outstanding item, about which we continue to have the reservations expressed in earlier correspondence.

  On looking again at the papers we notice, however, that the present informal arrangements for dialogue between social partners do not appear to include any representation for SMEs. That omission seems regrettable if this process is to have significant value. We would be glad to know whether the Government share that view and, if so, what might be done about it without formalising the process or creating unnecessary bureaucracy.

  The document will remain under scrutiny. We look forward to hearing from you when you have some progress to report.

30 March 2006

Letter from Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Services, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 30 March, to my predecessor Gerry Sutcliffe, asking about representation of small business in the European Social Dialogue.

  The Government agrees with the Committee about the importance of engaging small business in European Social Dialogue. Since November 1998 the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), that is the employer's organisation representing the interests of European crafts, trades and SMEs at EU level, has been a recognised European Social Partner and as such is recognised by the Commission for the purposes of consultation. We welcome this.

  However there remain a number of barriers to effective small firm engagement in European Social Dialogue. This emerged as a particular concern of new Member States, many of which have particularly high concentrations of small firms.

  That is why the UK Presidency held a conference to focus on this issue, and bring together a range of actors to look at ways in which this could be achieved. That conference identified a number of ideas on how small firm engagement might be developed that set out in the report of the conference (a copy of the report was attached to my predecessor Gerry Sutcliffe's previous letter of 21 March).

  Beyond the formal European Social Dialogue there is also the question of engaging small business in European policy making more generally. The European Commission appointed a special Envoy for SMEs to step up exchanges with SMEs and their representative bodies. It acts as a key interface with the SME community, considering their specific interests and needs in EU Programmes and legislation. We would look to the SME Envoy to take a particular interest in the whole range of small business engagement in EU policy and regulation including the European Social Dialogue.

17 May 2006

Letter from Jim Fitzpatrick MP to the Chairman

  Further to my predecessor's, Gerry Sutcliffe, letter of 21 March 2006 and mine of 17 May 2006, on the above, I am writing to update you further.

PROPOSED EXPERT GROUP ON SOCIAL DIALOGUE

  The Directors General for Industrial Relations met on 19 May 2006 in Helsinki. However there continues to be no notification of the proposed ad hoc meeting of technical experts nor further moves to establish a specific social dialogue expert group under the auspices of the committee of Directors General for Industrial Relations.

Transnational collective bargaining

  Regarding the results of the legal study on transnational collective bargaining, I attach a copy of the final Report which has just been made available to my officials. The Report provides an appraisal of existing transnational tools in Europe and the definition of reasons and means to develop an optional framework for transnational collective bargaining at EU level.

13 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Jim Fitzpatrick MP

  Thank you for your letters dated 17 May and 13 June which were considered by Sub-Committee G on 22 June.

  We are grateful to you for explaining the existing arrangements for representing SMEs and for drawing attention to the UK Presidency conference on social dialogue held in London on 17 November last year. While we appreciate the difficulties, we continue to believe that every effort should be made to ensure that SMEs have a proper voice in this process, as well as in European policy-making more generally. We are glad to note that the Government shares that view. We look forward to hearing whether the SME "Envoy" is able to make a positive contribution to this process and what British SMEs think about this innovation.

  Thank you for sending us a copy of the lengthy Commission legal study on transnational collective bargaining. It would be helpful to know what the Government think about this document and how it is expected to contribute to the overall process.

  The continuing lack of any apparent progress with either the proposed ad-hoc meetings of technical experts or the social dialogue expert group is both puzzling and regrettable. It seems to us to be symptomatic of a general lack of any sense of urgency or enthusiasm over this initiative on the part of the Presidency, and perhaps of other Member States. It is not clear from your letters where, if anywhere, it is going.

  After this Communication was first considered by the Committee I wrote to your predecessor on 28 October 2004 sharing the Government's caution about any legislative intervention by the Commission in this field. I commented then that we found it hard to judge precisely what this initiative would amount to in practice and whether it was likely to make a significant and cost-effective contribution to the Lisbon objectives, as intended. Our reservations remain while our understanding of what is involved does not seem to have advanced any further in any of these respects since then. We are beginning to wonder whether the time has not come to ask the Commission either to formulate some specific proposals, based on this Communication, or to shelve it altogether, and would be glad to know how the Government see the way forward.

  We will continue to retain the document under scrutiny pending your reply.

23 June 2006



216   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 675-676. Back


 
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