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Participants and challenges

The initial meetings between the European social partners in the building sector took place independently of the European Commission. The European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW-FETBB), for the workers, and the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC), for the employers, set up three independent working groups on the topics of jobs and training, health and safety, and social security schemes.

The dialogue was put on a formal footing at a meeting on 22 May 1992, devoted to examining a Commission study on “jobs and skills shortage in the construction trades” (European Commission, European Employment Observatory, Brussels 1991). The social partners managed at that point in time to have self-employed workers covered by the directive on temporary or mobile construction sites. A conference on vocational training was held in March 1993, and a seminar on health and safety at the workplace took place in November 1994. Other priorities at the time were accidents at work and occupational diseases.

The posting of workers is an issue that came to the fore in 1996, following the completion of the single market (Directive 96/71/EC), putting the social partners under considerable pressure owing to the fear that different sets of legislation would compete with one another in the same country. Indeed, the “posted workers” directive of 1996 stipulates that the wages of posted workers are to be set in accordance with the host country’s domestic legislation on the minimum wage and with collective agreements applying erga omnes in that country, while social security is governed by Regulation 1408/71 “on the application of social security schemes to employed persons and their families moving within the Community”. In September 1997, with a view to ensuring protection for posted workers, FIEC and the EFBWW issued a joint declaration calling for certain coordinating principles to be laid down by means of bilateral agreements drawn up by the sectoral social partners in the Member States. This declaration spawned a series of texts on the enforcement of working conditions for posted workers.

A few years later, the Commission's proposal for a directive on services in the internal market (2004) triggered renewed joint activity around the posting of workers, most notably two joint declarations calling for the amendment or deletion of certain articles of that directive which could, in the social partners’ view, prompt harmful practices such as unfair competition, social dumping and undeclared labour. They pointed out in particular that the “services” directive could pose major risks in terms of compliance with health and safety rules on building sites, owing to the envisaged prohibition of controls: this, they believed, could compromise the health and safety of workers on building sites.

For almost twenty years, therefore, social dialogue in the building sector has been developing around certain specific topics such as the posting of workers, freedom to provide services, health and safety in the workplace, vocational training for young people and their integration into the company.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD