Although each country has different characteristics, resulting from their different experiences, there are also common trends. This section summarises the situation across Europe in six key areas.

Trade Unions

Trade unions play an important role in all of the countries examined, although the proportion of employees who are union members (union density) varies widely, and density is not the only indication of unions' capacity to mobilise workers. Most European states have several competing union confederations, often divided on political grounds, although ideological differences may now be less important that in the past. In addition, many confederations contain powerful individual unions.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is the way that workers, through their unions, can negotiate the terms and conditions under which they are employed. Coverage, the proportion of employees whose terms and conditions are set by collective bargaining, varies greatly across Europe. This figure is becoming increasingly important because a 2022 EU directive requires governments to act if coverage is below 80%. The level at which bargaining takes place also varies, with some agreements covering a whole industry while others only cover one employer or sometimes just part of a single workplace.

Workplace Representation

Workplace employee representation plays a key role in defending and advancing the interests of employees where they work. The structures vary across Europe, including both representation through local union bodies and through works councils - or similar structures elected by all employees. The most common arrangement is that the law provides for both union and works council or works council-type structures. However, in five countries, there are only works councils and, in eight, workplace representation is essentially through the unions. There are also substantial variations in terms of the tasks and rights of workplace representatives in terms of how they are chosen, the protection that they have, and the time off, training and other resources at their disposal.

Board-level employee representation

Having employee representatives at the highest level in a company - on the board or, in some countries, on the supervisory board - gives employees a chance to have some influence on strategic decision-making. There is board-level employee representation in both the private and public sectors of 14 of the 30 states examined and another four, where this only exists in parts of their public sector. The national thresholds, above which board-level employee representation is required, range from 25-1,000, and the number of board-level seats held by worker representatives ranges from just one to half the total. There are also differences in how worker representatives are chosen, and in one country, the Netherlands, the board members chosen are far removed from the interests of the employees

Health and Safety

Ensuring that employees are consulted and informed about health and safety at their workplace is an important part of keeping them safe. There are structures providing employee representation in the area of health and safety in all of the countries covered. However, there are differences in how this representation is organised. The structure found most frequently is a combination of employee health and safety representatives with their own powers and a joint employee/employer committee. However, other states only have joint committees, some only have worker representatives while in others the existing works council plays the key role. There are also variations in how health and safety representatives are chosen, the thresholds at which bodies must be set up and the powers that they have.

Representation at the European level

European Works Councils (EWCs) and similar structures provide a mechanism for informing and consulting with employees at European level, with employee representatives from the countries concerned brought together in a single body. The way in which they operate is set out in an agreement with the company concerned. However, the rules deciding who negotiates this agreement are set out in national legislation and, in general, they reflect the existing structures in teh countries concerned.



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