Supporting European policymaking - the role of social dialogue

24th of May 2023
Mark Bergfeld (left), director for cleaning at  UNI Europa and Lorenzo Mattioli, EFCI president, sign the declaration on public procurement.

Since the construction of the Maastricht Treaty, social dialogue has been identified as one of the features on which the European social model is built. Matteo Matarazzo, director general at EFCI, explains its role and how it functions in the cleaning sector.  

When it comes to decision-making in the European Union, next to the traditional legislative procedures in which the European Council and the Parliament work together, an alternative exists in the field of social policy. It is social dialogue, in which social partners – ie, the organisations representing the two sides of the industry (the business community and the workforce) are free to interact, discussing issues that are relevant for the sector and elaborating together common solutions, whose legal value is officially accepted.

The value of this dialogue, and its institutional recognition, is based precisely on the acknowledgment that the players on the field are in a better position than policymakers to understand the challenges and needs of their sector, and identify the most effective solutions to address them – including legislation.

Since the beginning of the construction of the Maastricht Treaty, social dialogue has been identified as one of the features on which the European social model is built. Currently, two different levels of social dialogue are mentioned in the Treaties: a cross-sectoral one, in which social partners cover horizontal topics that are common to all economic sectors; and the sectoral one.

The actual representativeness of these organisations (which is a precondition for their dialogue to be recognised) is assessed regularly by a EU agency, Eurofound. Their implication takes two main forms: a compulsory consultation by the European Commission, whenever it considers the adoption of legislation in the social policy field; and the capacity to enter negotiations on topics of common interests, in full autonomy.

Whether it comes as a consequence of the consultation process or following their autonomous decision, the ensuing negotiation can result in different outcomes, ranging from the signature of joint declarations or statements to the conclusion of legally binding agreements (that, if parties require it, can be finalised into EU directives). In both cases, the European Commission acts as a facilitator of the process, providing organisational support and institutional backing.

EFCI’s predecessor, FENI, has been recognised since the very beginning of ‘structural’ sectoral social dialogue in 1998, as the legitimate European association representing the cleaning industry. Together with its trade union counterpart, UNI Europa, it has agreed on several positions and joint statements and accomplished joint European projects, raising awareness on the challenges of the sector and elaborating policy proposals relevant for its actors.

An example of EFCI’s work in social dialogue: agreeing on the need to review public procurement rules.

In a joint statement signed in March, EFCI and UNI Europa have stressed the importance of sound public procurement provisions, shifting away from an approach based on the reference to the lowest price as the over-arching criterion for attributing public tenders.

For a sector that has a strong influence on public health and is regarded as essential for the collective well-being and the good functioning of our societies, allowing both employers and workers to operate in the best structural conditions is fundamental. And as public authorities are a very large client for the professional cleaning industry in Europe, the contract-awarding conditions that are set in this context have a significant impact on the possibility to continue providing quality services.

Guaranteeing high social and working standards for workers while safeguarding the financial viability of businesses and the durability of the sector.

Public procurement can play a major role in strengthening the reach of collective bargaining in the sector, supporting the representative social partners reinforces their institutional capacity. In conclusion, both social partners call on the European Commission to consider intervening on some shortcomings of current provisions on public procurement, for instance by prohibiting clauses that forbid price revision of awarded contracts (especially because of structural phenomena like high inflation) or restricting participation in tenders to actors involved in collective bargaining.

Lorenzo Mattioli, president of EFCI, commented: “In some EU countries, public procurement accounts for approximately 50 per cent of the turnover. And as the percentage of the provision of services increases over the provision of goods or the realisation of public works in the context of public procurement, there is a need to rapidly review the approach of public authorities to how they tender.

“In times of high inflation like these, for many employers it has become simply impossible to keep up with the cost increases they are subject to. As responsible employers, we need to be put in the right conditions to continue delivering quality for our end-users and offering the best conditions to our staff while keeping our activities profitable – something a system based on the supremacy of the lowest-price criterion cannot allow sustainably”.

Oliver Roethig, regional secretary of UNI Europa,added: “Cleaners have seen their working conditions degraded over the years. Instead of addressing the problem, public money has been fuelling it. By putting price above all other considerations, they are squeezing both workers and employers. Public procurement should elevate collective bargaining as a motor for decent conditions and fair competition.”


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited