Social dialogue is any type of negotiation, consultation or exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating directly to work and related economic and social policies.
The extent to which workers can express themselves on work related matters and participate in defining their working conditions is an important dimension of decent work. This can be channelled through collectively chosen representatives or involve direct interaction between workers and employers. The ability of workers to organise freely to defend their interests collectively in negotiations with the employer is a pivotal element of democracy at the workplace and the effectiveness of social dialogue.
Strikes and lockouts are one measure of the failure of social dialogue. They are perhaps the most high profile aspect of social dialogue, at least in terms of media coverage and public impact and attention. At the same time in certain circumstances, the absence of strike action could indicate the absence of the right to strike and/or weak social dialogue.
Current international guidelines
The current international statistical guidelines on strikes, lockouts and collective agreements were adopted by the 15th ICLS in 1993. The ILO Resolution concerning statistics of strikes, lockouts and other action due to labour disputes provides definitions for strikes and lockouts as well as for the number of workers involved in them, as follows:
- A strike is a temporary work stoppage effected by one or more groups of workers with a view to enforcing or resisting demands or expressing grievances, or supporting other workers in their demands or grievances.
- A lockout is a total or partial temporary closure of one or more places of employment, or the hindering of the normal work activities of employees, by one or more employers with a view to enforcing or resisting demands or expressing grievances, or supporting other employers in their demands or grievances.
- Workers involved in a strike: Workers directly involved in a strike are those who participate directly by stopping work. Workers indirectly involved in a strike are those employees of the establishments involved, or self-employed workers in the group involved, who did not participate directly by stopping work but who were prevented from working because of the strike.
- Workers involved in a lockout: Workers directly involved in a lockout are those employees of the establishments involved who were directly concerned by the labour dispute and who were prevented from working by the lockout. Workers indirectly involved in a lockout are those employees of the establishments involved who were not directly concerned by the labour dispute but who were prevented from working by the lockout.
The subject of collective agreements was examined by the Third International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 1926 which adopted the “Resolution concerning statistics of collective agreements”. This Resolution contains detailed recommendations on definitions, methods of compiling the statistics and classification of the data (according to the nature of the contracting parties, the scope of application of the agreement, the subjects regulated, the duration of validity , the method of conclusion of the agreements, the industries covered and the industrial importance of the agreements).
A little bit of history
The subject of statistics of industrial disputes was considered in 1926 by the Third International Conference of Labour Statisticians, which adopted a resolution defining disputes and laying down detailed principles for determining the importance of a dispute (number of establishments and number of workers involved, duration for the dispute, number of work days lost) and for their classification (according to the matter in dispute, the result of the dispute, the method of settlement of the dispute, the industries affected, the importance of the dispute and the among of wages lost by the dispute. This topic was again discussed by the 14th ICLS in 1987 but no resolution was adopted at the time.
The 17th International Conference of Labour Statisticians discussed the topic of Trade Union Membership and Collective Bargaining Coverage. However, no guidelines were adopted and this remains a work in progress.
National statistics on social dialogue and ILO compilation activities
Very few countries have developed statistics on collective agreements and their progress depends to some extent on the methods of trade union organisation and on labour legislation. In contrast, more countries produce national statistics on strikes and lockouts, trade union membership and collective bargaining coverage, albeit with different methodologies which depend on the administrative source of the statistics. These may be records of conciliation services, services concerned with labour relations, strikes notices, newspaper reports and direct enquiries addressed to employers or to workers ‘ organisations.
The ILO regularly compiles and disseminates statistics on the number of strikes and lockouts (those beginning during the year plus those continuing from the previous year), the number of workers involved in these strikes (directly and indirectly), and the days not worked as a result of these strikes and lockouts, as well as severity rates of days not worked (number of days not worked per 1000 workers), by economic activity.
Since the 1990s, the ILO has established a small database covering statistics on trade union membership. It covers around 45 countries and statistics are taken from official national statistical publications. In 2003 the ILO collected, on an experimental basis, national statistics for around 35 countries on the a number of indicators of social dialogue, for example, on (a) trade union density, i.e., number of workers who are members of a workers’ association as a percentage of employment (or wage employment), by major industrial groups; and on (b) the number of persons covered by collected agreements, also as a percentage of employment (or paid employment), by major industrial groups. These statistics are not in LABORSTA, but can be viewed in Working Paper No. 59 - Social Dialogue Indicators: Trade Union Membership and Collective Bargaining Coverage, Statistical Concepts, Methods and Findings