The wide array of changes and reforms have influenced Europe’s public sector for some time. The changes have influenced both the quality of public services as well as the work life quality of public sector workers. The study analyses industrial relations and working conditions in the central public administration (CPA) within Member States, which have joined the EU since 2004. Therefore, the focus is on the governments of Estonia, Czech Republik, Rumenia and Slovakia who all have somewhat different public administration, public service and industrial relations systems.

Employer representation in CPA is complex as the authority to make decisions on terms of employment and working conditions tend to be much more dispersed in the public service than in private sector. The studied countries have all moved from centrally coordinated state apparatus toward more decentrally structured and weakly coordinated public services.

The working conditions for civil servants and public employees in CPA are designed through employment relations systems meaning that they are also influenced by how coordinated or decentralised the system is. Decentralisation and weaker coordination have also had an effect on industrial relations in the CPAs. In Estonia, Romania and the Czech Republic, collective bargaining is decentralised. In these countries, national level collective bargaining does not exist.

Trade unions remain to be the most common form of employee representation in the countries except Estonia. Trade union associations also exist for civil servants, although rivalry is present only in Romania. However, the rivalry driven by the need to increase the number of members has weakened civil servants representation, and trade union memberships have been declining in the CPAs.

Working conditions are set by laws, employer staff practices and through collective and individual negotiations. For example, in the Czech Republic where there is no unified public service system, working conditions are mainly determined by the employers and employees.

In general, decentralisation and weak coordination has challenged the employers to find the balance between the principles of merit and fairness and to address the issue of public service motivation. Fragmentation, decentralisation and weak coordination have also led to situation where changes and developments in working conditions and personnel policies in CPA in all four counties are hectic. To address those challenges, some attention has already been drawn in different countries to the “whole-of-government” and “good governance” approach to achieve coordination, collaboration and synergy across and within CPAs.