Nationally, trade unions are well established in the banking sector on the whole, and social dialogue can be regarded as a factor of industrial peace. At European level the social partners embarked on European social dialogue in 1990 in an informal working group; these talks then continued within the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee (SSDC), established in November 1999.
The European social partners are, on the workers’ side, UNI-Europa Finance (formerly Euro-FIET) and, for the employers, three organisations: the European Banking Federation (EBF), the ESBG (European Saving Banks Group) and the EACB (European Association of Cooperative Banks). These three bodies represent their members’ interests vis-à-vis the Community institutions but have no remit in the field of social affairs. They have set up a Banking Committee for European Social Affairs (BCESA), made up of organisations which do have a remit in this field. This remit problem has not been fully resolved, however, and the EBF acts as the main counterpart of UNI-Europa Finance for social dialogue purposes (see on this point Annette Holm Mikkelsen, “Social dialogue committee in the banking sector” in ETUI-REHS, 2005, “Sectoral social dialogue”, Transfer, Special issue on Sectoral Social Dialogue, Vol.11, No.3, Autumn 2005). At the request of the social partners the SSDC is chaired by the European Commission.
Social dialogue in this sector has progressed very slowly since the 1990s. In total, only six joint texts have been adopted between 1990 and 2010. The main topics addressed are work organisation (1998 joint opinion), employability and IT (2001 tool), lifelong learning (2003 declaration) and corporate social responsibility (2005 recommendation). The other two texts adopted are a joint study on the “non-bank” phenomenon (1999 tool) and the SSDC rules of procedure (1999).
The 1998 joint opinion is a short document geared to participating in the debate opened up by the European Commission at that time through its Green Paper on "Partnership for a new organisation of work", COM(97)128 final of 16 April 1997.
The 2001 study on employability sought to provide partial answers to a number of questions related to the spread of information technology in the sector (its effects on jobs; the consequences for counter staff, administrative services and head offices; human resources policies, etc.). The study also attempted – albeit with mixed results, according to the social partners themselves – to identify best practice in this area and to put forward some ideas about what role the social partners could play from this point of view. Although various difficulties had to be overcome, the results of these negotiations are nonetheless thought to have been beneficial for the sector. The outcomes were presented at a conference and translated into all the EU languages so as to ensure effective dissemination.
The 2003 joint declaration on lifelong learning is likewise regarded by the social partners as constituting progress in the sectoral social dialogue. It contains recommendations on entry-level skills, recognising and validating competencies and skills, providing information, and employment and retraining through mobilising resources. This text contains no follow-up procedures and, as such, is classified by the European Social Observatory as a “declaration”. It has however been widely circulated and discussed, mainly at a social dialogue conference where the social partners undertook to follow up the text nationally. This document seems to have fed into national collective bargaining in Belgium, Denmark and Italy, according to Mikkelsen (cited above).
Lastly, the preparatory work for the 2005 recommendation on some aspects of corporate social responsibility provoked a significant amount of tension in the employers’ camp. The ESBG and the EACB in fact withdrew from the project while the study was underway, pointing out that, whereas they attached importance to corporate social responsibility as a topic, they found the term difficult to define. Moreover, both organisations preferred to await the outcome of the study being undertaken at cross-industry level before embarking on talks in the SSDC. This recommendation, finally adopted in 2005, addresses in particular the issues of minimum social standards in the sector, training, the work/life balance, internal communication and equal opportunities. As categorised by the European Social Observatory, this document constitutes a first-level reciprocal commitment between the social partners, even though the follow-up procedure appears to be particularly weak.
It is also worth noting that in 2006 the social partners carried out a study on the impact of demographic change on human resource management policies. Furthermore, they have conducted various projects since 1999 aimed at involving the new EU Member States in social dialogue in the banking sector. The purpose of these projects was to improve awareness of industrial relations and European social dialogue among the social partners in central and eastern Europe.
The 2008-2009 financial and banking crisis and the related job cuts have led UNI-Europa to call for improved transparency and supervision in the banking system. The succession of restructuring operations has also caused trade union representatives to rethink issues such as lifelong learning, vocational training and skills validation. An initial meeting about the financial crisis, held in February 2009 as part of the social dialogue, resulted in the decision to collect and share information about employment trends in the sector. Unlike in other sectors, and even though it goes to the very heart of the finance industry, the crisis has not resulted in the adoption of any joint texts within the European social dialogue.