This is not the place for a history of national industrial relations across 30 countries in Europe, a story that begins in the nineteenth century and has been shaped by the massive convulsions of the twentieth, with developments also deeply influenced by the shift first from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and, in more recent decades, to an economy based on services. However, it is an opportunity to point out that industrial relations have changed significantly in the past and continue to do so. The end of the Second World War produced massive changes, including in industrial relations. In Germany, as in other states, the post-war period saw the emergence of important elements of the industrial relations framework that have continued into the present: a single trade union confederation, rather than the rival confederations of the past; legislation giving workers representation at board level; and comprehensive legislation on works councils.

After a period of relative calm in the 1950s, the following decades were characterised in several countries by periods of strikes and industrial action, including the “hot autumn” in Italy in 1969 and the “winter of discontent” in the UK in 1978-79. These both produced a legislative response: an extension of workers’ rights and protections with the 1970 Workers Statute in Italy; a reduction of workers’ and unions’ freedom of action with a series of anti-union laws in the 1980s in the UK. The end of dictatorship in Greece, Portugal and Spain in the mid-1970s led to the emergence of new industrial relations structures in all three countries. And in 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall and the regime changes that followed fundamentally altered industrial relations in countries across Central and Eastern Europe. Developments in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s were heavily influenced by the need to bring their structures, including those relating to industrial relations, in line with the requirements of the European Union, which most joined in 2004. (Romania and Bulgaria followed in 2007 and Croatia in 2013.

EU policies have also had an impact on all EU member states, as well as Norway, which, while not an EU member, is associated with it through membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), whose members must follow EU legislation in social policy. This is particularly clear for health and safety, with framework legislation being adopted at EU level in 1989, but it is also the case in other areas, such as the adoption of the directive on minimum wages in 2022. This directive does not require that is minimum wage must be introduced, still less set its level, but it does require member states to act if their collective bargaining coverage is below 80%. This relatively recent legislation indicates that the framework of industrial relations continues to alter. Many European states, including Greece, Romania and Portugal, introduced major changes, leading to a worsening of pay and conditions, in response to the financial crisis of 2008, although in some countries these changes are beginning to be reversed. Changes in national governments can also have a significant impact. The changes in employee representation in France in 2017 were a direct result of the election of Emmanuel Macron as president earlier in the year.

Industrial relations in the 30 states examined in this section have changed substantially in recent decades, and that process is not at an end.

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