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Participants and challenges

Health and safety, working conditions and sustainable forestry are the three principal strands of social dialogue in the woodworking sector. This social dialogue struggled to find its feet at first, but seems to have reached cruising speed in the early 2000s. The Comité du dialogue social sectorielSectoral Social Dialogue Committee brings together the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) for the workers, and the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries (CEI-Bois) for the employers.

Although European-level employers’ and workers’ organisations were formed in this sector back in the 1950s (in 1952 and 1958 respectively), it was not until 1991 that social dialogue - then still unofficial - began in two sectors: woodworking and furniture. This development came about when the European Commission consulted the social partners on the issue of wood dust (protection of workers against risks arising from exposure to carcinogens at work). The embryonic social dialogue was broken off, however, owing to differences of opinion on this matter. Only in 1994 was the social dialogue put on a formal footing, through the mutual recognition of the EFBWW and CEI-Bois as social dialogue counterparts.

An initial joint opinion, on sustainable forestry, was adopted in 1997. The social partners note in this text that the main cause of deforestation in tropical countries is the spiral of poverty, social inequality, demographic pressure, extreme debt and economic underdevelopment, all of which leads to uncontrolled exploitation of forests through the felling of trees for agricultural, industrial and infrastructure purposes, and through increased use of wood for fuel. They therefore call on the European Commission and the Member States to do their utmost to break this spiral, in particular by making available the necessary resources for development in these countries.

The adoption of this first joint text, which coincided with the European Commission's 1998 communication on sectoral social dialogue, led the woodworking social partners to set up a Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee (SSDC) in 2000. According to the rules of procedure of the SSDC, social dialogue was to be geared towards joint lobbying of the Commission and promoting social dialogue throughout the sector. So-called ‘horizontal’ (general) topics were excluded from its scope and were to be handled by the relevant umbrella organisations. The same applies to all remuneration matters.

Very soon after the establishment of the SSDC, a code of conduct was negotiated and then adopted in 2002. It relates to compliance with ILO Conventions Nos. 29 and 105 (forced labour), 87 and 98 (freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining), 138 (ban on child labour) and 111 (non-discrimination in employment). To this day, the code of conduct remains the only reciprocal commitment entered into by the social partners in this sector.

There followed some joint opinions and joint declarations on biomass combustion (2003), the sector’s contribution to combating climate change (2006), illegal logging and certification of wood (2007) and the use of energy from renewable sources (2008).

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