The proportion of employees covered by collective bargaining in the 28 EU states plus Norway varies from well over 90% to 10%. The countries at the top of the table either have high levels of union membership, as in the Nordic countries, or have legal structures which ensure that collective agreements have a wide coverage. In the countries at the bottom of the table, company level bargaining dominates. In some countries, such as Belgium, Italy or Sweden, there are links between different levels of bargaining but in others, like Luxembourg or Cyprus, various levels simply coexist. Overall the trend seems to be towards greater decentralisation and the crisis has accelerated this.


Collective bargaining coverage

One indicator of the importance of collective bargaining is the proportion of employees affected by it – its coverage. Across the EU as a whole, six out of 10 employees (60%) are covered by collective bargaining, although there are important variations between countries. It is striking that some countries have very high levels of collective bargaining coverage – at around 80% or above – which are well above the levels of union density. In most cases this reflects the specific legal framework for collective bargaining in the individual countries.

Overall, however, it is important to remember that in many countries, the figures for collective bargaining coverage are uncertain and, in some, the agreements signed do no more that restate existing legal minimum requirements and therefore have little impact on employees’ terms and conditions. The figures should therefore be treated with caution.

There are nine countries at the top of the table – with collective bargaining coverage of around 80% or more – and they can be divided into two main groups.

There are three countries – Sweden, Finland and Denmark – where high collective bargaining coverage goes with high union density. Unions in effect have the strength to require that their members’ terms and conditions should be negotiated, although in Finland agreements are normally considered binding for all employees in the industry concerned.

In the second group – Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal – the current high levels of collective bargaining coverage reflect, at least in part, the legal framework in which collective bargaining takes place. In Austria the negotiators on the employers’ side include the chambers of commerce and industry to which all employers must belong, with the result that almost all employees are covered.

In Belgium, coverage is high because agreements signed at industry level automatically extend to all those employed in that industry. In Italy there is no legislation which makes industry level agreements generally binding but courts have normally interpreted them in this way.

In the Netherlands, agreements do not apply to whole industries automatically, but government action in extending collective agreements adds around 15% to bargaining coverage. In France too, the extension of agreements by the government to non-signatory employers, combined with the legal obligation on employers to negotiate annually at company and (in some circumstances) at industry level provide a high level of coverage.

However, the case of France indicates why the figures need to be treated with care. Although collective bargaining coverage is extremely high, some agreements have rates which are below the level of the French national minimum wage and are therefore invalid. Individualised pay increases, which are not negotiated, also play an important role in setting the pay of many French workers.

In Portugal, the situation is changing as a result of the financial crisis. In the past, the government frequently extended agreements to employers who were not signatories. However, this has now been greatly limited, and combined with other changes, it seems likely that coverage will fall in the future.

Further down the table, Norway, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Malta, Luxembourg, Germany and Cyprus all have collective bargaining coverage of between 50% and 75%, and, other than in Malta, in all these countries there is extensive industry bargaining, although in Croatia it is the extension by government of some large agreements makes up for the fact that the bulk of bargaining is company based.

In the countries at the bottom half of table, it is bargaining at company level that predominates. Almost by definition, company level bargaining depends on union activity at company level and is therefore more closely related to levels of union density.

Three countries have seen major falls in the coverage of collective bargaining in recent years, and in each case they result from legislative changes to the bargaining structure.

In Greece, a range of legislative changes in 2011 and 2012, including allowing company-level agreements to undercut those signed at industry level, limiting the length of time that expired agreements continue to be valid and removing the power from the government to extent agreements, has resulted in collective bargaining coverage falling from around 65% of employees before the crisis to an estimated 10% currently.

In Romania, the 2011 Social Dialogue Act, which abolished national level bargaining and made it much more difficult for unions to bargaining at industry level meant that collective bargaining coverage fell from 98% in 2011 to an estimated 36% a year later.

In Slovenia, the ending of compulsory membership of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for employers, and the 2006 Collective Agreements Act, which stated that only employers or employers’ associations with voluntary membership could sign collective agreements have meant that many employers have been able to choose to withdraw from collective bargaining. As a result, coverage has fallen from 96% in 2005 to an estimated 65% today.

In Portugal and Spain, there have been concerns that similar changes to those in Greece and Romania could lead to a comparable fall in coverage. However, as yet, the latest figures for overall coverage do not show the dramatic drop that was feared.

In Portugal, with many fewer employees being covered by new agreements, and the latest changes only coming into effect in September 2014, it may be that the changes in collective bargaining arrangement have still to work through.

In Spain, the long delay before full figures become available makes it difficult to judge what is happening, but there is some strong evidence that in 2013, a year after the major legislative changes, the vast majority of companies continued to be covered by collective bargaining.

The level of collective bargaining

However, collective bargaining coverage is by no means the whole story. The level at which bargaining takes place and the way different levels interact is also crucial. The details of each country are set out in the individual country sections, but it is worth pointing to some of the variants on offer.

There are some countries where national level agreements set a framework for negotiators at lower levels to follow.

This is clearly the case in Belgium, where a national agreement every two years sets pay increases, which are then applied in settlements at both industry and company negotiations, although in recent years the system has come under strain. (On several occasions unions and employers have been unable to agree a national framework, leaving the government to impose the pay increases to be applied.) In Norway there is a clear hierarchy of negotiations, from confederation to individual unions to company level, although the confederations do not always take the lead. In Spain, there has been a national agreement setting pay guidelines, covering ever year but one since 2002. The Spanish guidelines are voluntary, but they clearly have an impact on negotiations at industry and company level.

In Finland, the pattern of national framework agreements appears to have returned despite its apparent demise in 2007, when the employers refused to negotiate a new national agreement. In 2011, in the light of the economic crisis, the employers changed tack and signed a national framework agreement, and another national framework agreement was reached in 2013.

However, in Ireland the system of national agreements which set pay increases, among other things, for more than 20 years, effectively broke down in 2009 under the pressure of the economic crisis. Pay and conditions are now set at company level in the private sector, although the public sector – where pay is frozen – is covered by a national deal.

In other countries, it is industry-level negotiations that set pay and conditions for the vast majority of employees covered by bargaining. This is the position in Austria, in Germany, in Portugal and in Slovenia (although all but Austria also have some company agreements).

The position in Italy is slightly different. In principle, industry level bargaining provides increases which keep pace with forecast inflation, while productivity gains are to be compensated for at company level. However, new bargaining arrangements give greater weight to company level bargaining.

In France, almost all employees are covered by industry-level agreements, but these often only provide only minimum terms, with improvements negotiated at company level or individually with employees

In Sweden and Denmark, although most employees are covered by industry deals, lower level negotiators have substantial room for manoeuvre. In Sweden, only 10% of all employees had their pay entirely set by the industry level collective agreements in the 2013 bargaining round, while in Denmark, in the biggest group of agreements, covering 85% of employees in LO unions in the private sector, pay is set by local deals at company level. In Finland, where the two most recent pay rounds have seen a return to national negotiations (see above) – there is scope for extensive local bargaining in some industries.

There are then some countries where industry and company level bargaining both co-exist and are not directly linked. Croatia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and the Netherlands,  are all examples of this pattern, though with variations. In the Netherlands, most employees are covered by industry-level bargaining, although the largest companies may have their own agreements. In Luxembourg, company bargaining is crucial in some sectors, like retail, but in others, like banking and construction, pay and conditions are set by industry-level bargaining. In Croatia most bargaining is at company level, although there are some sectors, like construction and catering, as well as the public sector, where there are industry level agreements – sometimes in addition to the company level deals. In Cyprus, there is a mixture of industry and company-level bargaining, with company agreements sometimes setting pay and conditions for those not covered at industry level, sometime improving on industry rates.

Spain provides another example of this mixed approach, although, as already noted, the national framework agreement has a major influence on lower level negotiators. Pay and conditions agreements are signed at both industry and company level. Industry-level agreements (often signed at provincial level) still predominate, but legal changes have given company agreements precedence over deals signed at all other levels

Finally there are the countries, like the UK and most of the states in Central and Eastern Europe, where company level negotiations predominate, although here too there are variations. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, although most of those covered by collective bargaining have their pay and conditions set at company level, there are still significant numbers of employees covered by industry-level agreements. In all three countries under certain circumstances these agreements can be extended to companies which are not members of the employers’ association that signed them.

In Poland too, industry-level bargaining still exists, although the proportion of employees covered is lower than in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, and they are concentrated in local government and state-owned industries. The situation is similar in the three Baltic states, where industry-level bargaining plays a very limited role, concentrated in health and transport in Estonia, and in education, health, energy and transport in Latvia. In Lithuania, where until recently the only multi-employer agreement had covered newspapers, a European project has encouraged the signing of agreements in a number of other industries.

In Bulgaria, the formal structure is two-tier, at industry and company level, but in practice many industry level agreements are out of date and it is company-level agreements which in reality set terms and conditions.

In the UK, there is still industry-level bargaining in some industries, such as parts of the clothing and textile industry and construction, but in most cases, in the private sector, bargaining is at company or plant level. The situation is similar in Ireland and Malta (where, outside the public sector, there is no industry-level bargaining).

Two additional countries, Greece and Romania, have recently joined the group of states where company bargaining dominates. In Greece, legal changes in 2011 and 2012 produced a fall in the number of industry-level or occupational-level agreements, down from 65 in 2010 to 14 in 2013. In Romania, the passage of the Social Dialogue Act in 2011 ended national-level bargaining and has meant that negotiations at industry level have virtually ceased, with only four industry-level agreements being signed between 2011 and 2014, all in education and health.

The developments in Greece and Romania reinforce the point that collective bargaining arrangements are not static. They also fit into the general trend, which for some time has been towards the decentralisation of bargaining to company level.

In those countries, where industry-level agreements still predominate, this has involved employers leaving employers’ organisations completely so as to be free to set their own terms and conditions, as is the case for some employers in Germany and for Fiat in Italy. In Denmark and Sweden, as already noted, important parts of the pay package are left to negotiations at local level. (The position is similar in Finland.)  In other countries, local agreements are able to deviate from industry agreements where companies face financial problems. This is something many agreements in Germany permit, and it is also possible in France, Portugal and Spain, although the extent to which this depends on local agreement with the unions or can be unilaterally imposed by the employer, as well as the issues covered, varies from country to country.

Overall, the economic crisis accelerated the process of change, although in most countries the bulk of the legal changes had been completed by 2012 – Portugal, with new legislation coming into force in 2014, is an exception. Nevertheless, in many countries, the impact of the changes is still not clear.

One obvious change over a longer timescale is that a national minimum wage has now become more typical, with Germany the latest country to introduce a national minimum wage. It came into force in January 2015. The six EU member states without a minimum wage are: Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden. There is also no minimum wage in Norway.

As well as variations in the coverage of collective bargaining and the level at which it occurs, there are other differences in the parties involved in negotiation, the length of time that agreements last, and the topics covered by collective agreements. These issues are examined in the country sections.


Table: Countries by collective bargaining coverage and level(s)

CountryCovered by collective bargaining (%)Key level of collective bargaining


Industry and company


National (sets framework)








Industry – but much left to company negotiations


Industry (also some company)


Industry – but much left to company negotiations




National and industry


Industry (also some company)



Industry and company





Industry and company (varies with sector




Industry and company


Czech Republic


Company (also some industry)


Now almost exclusively company because of legislative changes


Company (also some industry)






Company (also some industry)








Now almost exclusively company because of legislative changes


EU average


Average including Norway



For several countries (marked *) the source is the respective Eurofound Industrial relations profile. For other countries the sources are:

Austria: Collectively agreed wages in Austria: indicators by Sepp Zuckerstätter, AK Wien, 2012;

Bulgaria: KNSB;

Croatia: Industrijski odnosi u Hrvatskoj: društvena integracija ili tržišni sukob (Industrial relations in Croatia: social integration or market conflict) by Dragan Bagić, 2010;

Cyprus: The ICTWSS Database, Version 4, April 2103

Czech Republic: Structure of earnings survey 2012, Table A7, Czech Statistical Office, 2013;

Denmark: Udviklingen i den faglige organisering:  årsager og konsekvenser for den danske model, by Jesper Due and Jørgen Steen Madsen. 2010, LO-dokumentation 1/2010;

Estonia: Statistics Estonia, Table WQU96, 2009; 

Finland: Työehtosopimusten kattavuus Suomessa vuonna 2004 by Lasse Ahtiainen , Ministry of Labour, 2007;

France: La couverture conventionnelle a fortement progressé entre 1997 et 2004, DARES, 2006;

Germany: Calculated from Tarifbindung und betriebliche Interessenvertretung: Aktuelle Ergebnisse aus dem IAB-Betriebspanel 2013, by Peter Ellguth and Susanne Kohaut, WSI-Mitteilungen, 4/2014

Greece: Expert estimate;

Hungary: Centre for Social Dialogue (Társadalmi Párbeszéd Központ), 2014;

Latvia: Number of employees having a collective pay agreement by kind of activity in the end of October, Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2009;

Luxembourg: Conventions collectives et salaires, by Alain Schäfer,  Économie et statistiques, Statec, 2010;

Netherlands: Calculated from Cao-afspraken 2013, Bijlage IXI Cao’s in Nederland, SZW, October 2014;

Norway: Organisasjonsgrader, tariffavtaledekning og arbeidskonflikter 2013, by Kristine Nergaard, Fafo, 2014;

Portugal: Quadros de pessoal 2013; Gabinete de Estratégia e Planeamento (GEP), 2014;

Romania: estimate by CNS Cartel Alfa and BNS 2012;

Spain: Calculated from Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2012 Datos Definitivos CCT-II.2;

Sweden: Avtalsrörelsen och lönebildningen 2014 Medlingsinstitutets årsrapport, Medlingsinstitutet, 2015;

United Kingdom: Trade Union Membership 2013: Statistical Bulletin, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2014.

The figures for the EU and EU plus Norway are calculated using Eurostat figures on employees in employment.



ETUI Collective Bargaining newsletter

This newsletter presents up-to-date information on collective bargaining developments across Europe. It aims to facilitate information exchange between trade unions and to support the work of the ETUC’s collective bargaining committee.