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Commerce could be said to be in a league of its own among the 36 sectors currently organised into Sectoral Social Dialogue Committees. The momentum achieved by the social partners in this sector is quite unlike any other.

European social dialogue in the commerce sector is aimed at highlighting the specific nature of the sector at all levels and, in order to do so, has developed an all-round strategy of lobbying the European institutions as well as engaging in internal social dialogue. Of all the SSDC rules of procedure recorded in the European Social Observatory database, those of the commerce sector are the most comprehensive. Under these rules, the social partners undertake to exchange information regularly, adopt joint declarations, conclude agreements, carry out joint projects and hold joint seminars on topical subjects. They assert in addition that they are able, if necessary, to obtain a mandate from their constituents to negotiate framework agreements.

As regards the results of this social dialogue, in quantitative terms the output of joint texts is well above the average for other sectors (the same applies to the telecommunications and postal services sectors). Commerce is one of the few sectors to have concluded at least one joint text per year since 1995, with the sole exception of 2007. One of the reasons for this hyperactivity is explained in the introduction to a joint brochure on social dialogue in commerce (30 November 1998): “both the employers and the trade unions consider that the importance of the commercial sector has been under-estimated. This sector must strive to make itself more visible and to ensure that politicians pay greater attention to its needs. Governments must devise a strategy that takes the sector’s needs into account”. Another reason could lie in the way in which the commerce sector and the European cross-industry social dialogue, conducted by BusinessEurope, the ETUC and CEEP, vie – or even compete – with one another to lead the way.

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