The European Foundation for the Improvement of the Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) published the results of the study “The concept of representativeness at national, international and European level”. The Eurofound’s network of correspondents, including Praxis as the Estonian correspondent, gave comprehensive information about all EU member states and Norway, and thus played an important role in the study.

Trade unions and employers’ organisations (in other words social partners) exist in every EU country, however, the number, role and importance of these organisations varies from country to country. Important keyword here is representativeness, which provides legitimacy to social partners for their various roles, including collective bargaining and involvement in policy making.

The aim of the study is to explore different ways how representativeness is defined and perceived in different countries, which are the criteria for representativeness and to propose elements that could be used in a common definition of representativeness.

According to the gathered information, the definition and criteria of representativeness are very different across countries. However, two core principles for determining representativeness can be brought out: legal conformity and mutual recognition. Many countries have some kind of legal framework for determining the representativeness of the social partner organisations, but its scope varies considerably – in some cases the number of members is important, while in some cases the law strictly defines which social partner organisations can participate in collective bargaining. At the same time, there is no representativeness criteria set in Estonian legislation and the determination of representativeness is rather self-regulatory. Similar to Estonia, for example Denmark, Sweden and Poland also brought out that in these countries the self-regulation is more important mechanism than legislative regulation. Overall, most of the countries feature the combination of both of these core principles (mix of both formal and informal criteria) and as a result of the study, four more distinct models exist:

  1. social partner self-regulation, taking into account negotiating capacity and social strength;
  2. mixed social partner and state regulation;
  3. state regulation membership strength, taking into account the overall strength of the organisation;
  4. state regulation electoral strength, taking into account electoral success of social partners at work places.

The second part of the study focused on the representativeness at the international and European level. It describes different organisations and their roles, the importance of representativeness and different definitions of representativeness on the basis of literature and documents.

The report is available here.