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The European furniture sector, which is subject to intense international competition, has generated a social dialogue that could be described as “declaratory”. The social partners are attempting to manage change in a context of globalisation by means of strategies akin to the open method of coordination.

Furniture is a sector that is coming under increasing international competition but is little affected by Community legislation – except in respect of health and safety issues. The typology of the European Social Observatory (ESO) places it in the category of “sectors managing change in a context of globalisation”, along with others such as textiles, footwear, and tanning and leather.

However, unlike these other sectors, where social dialogue chiefly produces joint opinions aimed at influencing economic, sectoral and employment policies as well as various social aspects of Community policies, the furniture sector mostly generates documents falling into the “declarations” category. For instance, the declaration on reducing accidents at work refers mainly to elements reminiscent of the open method of coordination: best practice, dissemination of results and joint assessments. Similarly, as concerns training and the way in which young workers perceive the sector, the social partners call rather vaguely for greater support for training initiatives and the elaboration of strategies to upgrade jobs in the sector and improve the way it is perceived by young workers.

The two joint opinions adopted in this sector call on the European institutions to help develop the social dialogue and ensure proper implementation of health and safety regulations in the new Member States. There are no joint documents reflecting reciprocal commitments (framework agreements). Social dialogue in this sector can therefore be described as “voluntary” or “declaratory”, which distinguishes it from other sectors exposed to international competition. As stated in the ESO report (Pochet et al., “European sectoral social dialogue 1997-2004”, European Social Observatory, 2004), “we would point out the virtual absence of declarations in sectors heavily exposed to international competition, which tend to prefer recommendations with follow-up procedures”. Furniture therefore appears to constitute an exception from this point of view.

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