Social Partners

Social Partners represent two sides of the industries namely both the employers and the employees.


Social partners are trade unions, employers’ organisations, private enterprises, chambers of commerce, industry and craft. They participate in a network and address the issues, such as:

  • The labour market skill gap
  • The instruction of people in the labour market
  • Equitable approaches to education and training for employees, developing job-specific skills
  • Vocational training for employees


The dialogue between the different actors has been effective for successful labour market adaption and agreements on employment conditions, availability and education.


However, social partners are facing various challenges today in relation to the EU with regard to increased regulation of the national economy, increasing focus on wages and employment conditions, and deregulation of essential labour and employment rules.

It is important for the social partners across Europe to get an understanding of the welfare and labour market models in the other countries. Dialogue between the actors across borders helps to increase the role of social partners and improve working conditions.


Roughly, the models can be divided in five systems in terms of pensions, unemployment and healthcare systems and insurance and the role of trade unions.


In the EU countries, labour market is regulated through three regulatory forms:

  • Market
  • Collective agreements
  • Government legislation


The Nordic Countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden

  • Tax-financed welfare societies, strong public sector.
  • High taxation and strong social benefits (labour market pensions and unemployment insurance partly exception)
  • Strong role of social partners, collective agreements between trade unions and employers’ organisations


Continental Europe:

  • Insurance based, and employer financed pension, unemployment and healthcare systems
  • Relative strong role of social partners. Legislation supplies collective agreements


The United Kingdom and Ireland

  • Social benefits are the last exit for few people
  • Weak trade unions


Southern Europe:

  • Strong role of the state
  • The highest priority in age pensions
  • Weak unions but collective agreements between trade unions and employers’ organisations
  • Homogeneous wage structure


The Baltic states, Central and South East Europa, Cyprus and Malta:

  • Limited state social security thus, need of family support
  • Weak trade unions and a fragmented negotiation system



Denmark: The internationally recognised Danish model is based on the fact that the social partners themselves determine the rules of the games. They know the problems and challenges on the labour markets and are the best at adapting and finding quick solutions to them.


Another characteristic is a high mobility and employment access. In Denmark, the ‘flexicurity’ system compounds three elements:


  • Flexibility of the rules for hiring and firing. Easy for employers to adapt to fluctuating economic conditions.
  • Unemployment security guarantees a legally specified unemployment benefit at a relatively high level. Unemployment funds are independent but organised in collaboration with/by the trade unions.
  • Active labour market policy. The system is in place to offer guidance, a job or education to all unemployed.


Central and Southern Europe: in turn, the work contracts are longer, the people often have a job for a lifetime. The mobility is limited and only few shifts between jobs, and consequently it is difficult for young people to get a job.

Naturally, one model does not suit every country, and it is challenging to compare different systems. For example, the size of the population and country’s economy affect how the labour market and social systems are arranged and can be changed. In addition, there are significant socio-cultural and historical reasons behind them.


For example, the Nordic countries were building the taxed-based welfare system for decades. Today, the good social security system guarantees that the workers are not totally fend for themselves. The system has been created so that people easily can find jobs because the employers can hire new workers without a fear that legislation would not allow them to lay off employees in downturns.


By contrast, in Southern European countries, workers can rely on relatively stable employment and social partners prefer a strong legislation to bargaining. However, in the recession, people’s working situation can change, which can affect their living conditions radically.


Despite the differences between countries, the flexicurity system, for example, can give inspiration to the countries where workers’ security and the role of social partnership are weak.