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Participants and challenges

European considerations and policies might, at first sight, seem rather remote from the daily reality of hairdressing salons, yet several factors contributed to the rapid expansion of social dialogue in this sector. Since the late 1990s, this social dialogue has brought together UNI-Europa Hair & Beauty Care for the workers, and the European Confederation of Hairdressing Employers' Organisations (“Coiffure EU”) for the employers.

Factors contributing to the rapid expansion of this social dialogue include the existence of very active social partners in certain countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, who are driven by the desire to forge a Europe-wide quality image. But also, and above all, there is a determination to operate at a European level, regarded as the appropriate level at which to draw up quality standards in respect of health and safety, vocational training and skills.

Another aspect is revealed in the conclusions of a study carried out by a firm of independent consultants, underlining “the importance of following trends regularly [in terms of fashion, product markets and education – ed.] both at national and European level to ensure that steps can be taken to anticipate or accompany such trends with training or other actions” (“New trends and developments in the European hairdressing sector”, report drawn up for CIC-Europe and Uni-Europa, ECOTEC Research&Consulting Limited, March 2000). Perhaps we have here another explanation for the dynamic nature of social dialogue in this sector.

The eight texts adopted so far are:

  • the European hairdressing certificate (2000);
  • the code of conduct and guidelines for European hairdressers (2001);
  • the joint declaration on vocational training (2005);
  • the recommendation on health and safety (2005);
  • the joint opinion on the “cosmetics” directive (2007);
  • the Bari Charter (2007);
  • the European agreement on the implementation of the European Hairdressing Certificates (2009);
  • the European framework agreement on the prevention of health risks in the hairdressing sector (2010)

The first point to note here is that these documents reveal particular interest in three topics: vocational training, health and safety matters, and professional quality standards. In a joint booklet entitled “The European hairdressing certificate. Guidelines for European hairdressers - The social dialogue programme of the EU”, the social partners set out five “good reasons” for adopting common European training standards:

  • the labour force gets more flexible (common standards improve mobility in Europe and flexibility within the trade)
  • better possibilities of working abroad (European standard training prepares hairdressers for working abroad)
  • the customers can rely on high quality (high professional standards)
  • hairdressers stay longer in the trade (European standard training helps ensure that hairdressers have their professional and technical ambitions fulfilled)
  • a common professional starting point towards quality improvement (a common platform for the discussion and improvement of quality).

The “Bari Charter”, concluded in November 2007, sets out follow-up commitments and clarifies the links between the European hairdressers' various initiatives (the certificate, the health and safety covenant, and the “How to get along” guide). It paves the way towards an important joint agreement on the implementation of the European Hairdressing Certificates, concluded on 18 June 2009.

The purpose of this document, classified by the European Social Observatory in the “autonomous agreements” category, is to “improve the overall quality and image of the hairdressing services in the EU” through the use of European certificates and joint national-level implementation of their provisions. This is a strong reciprocal commitment, involving both the European and the national social partners. Their undertaking relates, firstly, to the integration of specific training modules (including in particular health and safety instructions) into national hairdresser training programmes; thereafter it covers the design, the production and the issuing of European certificates to those who pass the examination and/or update their qualifications. The follow-up arrangements are binding on the social partners: they are duty-bound to implement this certification system, and the national social partners are obliged to report regularly on the state of play.

Another important document is the European framework agreement on the prevention of health risks in the hairdressing sector (scheduled for adoption in 2010). One of the triggers for this joint text was the European social partners’ frustration with the process for revising the “cosmetics” directive (76/768/EEC). For the record, this directive aims to ensure that all products placed on the European market are safe and comply with the same rules in all Member States. Its constituent parts are consumer safety, regulatory harmonisation, consumer information and animal experimentation. Yet health protection for workers in the sectors affected by cosmetics – primarily hairdressers and beauticians – does not feature as such. On 5 February 2008 the Commission published a draft regulation replacing the 1976 directive, but without paying any added attention to health and safety issues for workers using these products (despite a request from the social partners). Hence their decision to take up the matter themselves through sectoral social dialogue.

The framework agreement negotiated in 2009 and adopted in 2010 sets out a series of ambitious objectives related to prevention and health protection at the workplace, the working environment, safety standards, staff training, and the harmonisation of working conditions within the EU. This document puts forward a number of recommendations, for instance on the handling of materials, protection of the skin and respiratory tract, but also prevention of musculo-skeletal disorders, the environment and organisation of work, maternity protection, and the mental load. This is a fully-fledged framework agreement in the meaning of the Treaty: the social partners call on the Commission to present the text to the Council for a decision, so that the agreement becomes binding in the EU Member States.

As we have seen, therefore, social dialogue in the personal services sector relates mainly to training, quality standards for hairdressing services, and health and safety at work. Apart from these recurrent themes we also find – albeit more peripherally – a desire to take part in the debate about a reduced VAT rate for labour-intensive sectors.

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