Paul Goulding QC and Jane Mulcahy of Blackstone Chambers round up various initiatives emanating from Europe, beginning with the concept of "social mediation".
The Commission is to consult on the possibility of establishing European-level voluntary mechanisms for conflict resolution.
The Commission has been working on the topic for a number of months. At the same time, the idea of "social mediation" was promoted independently by the Belgian presidency.
EU Commissioner for employment and social affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou, told a Brussels conference that the Commission will shortly bring forward a discussion paper on social mediation. She saw European-level conflict resolution as being particularly useful in a number of areas including disputes between European Works Councils ("EWCs") and central company management, and issues arising from company restructuring.
However, European-level mechanisms would be concerned only with matters of a collective nature. Disputes concerning individual employment relations would continue to be dealt with nationally.
Any initiatives are more likely to be in the nature of conciliation and mediation than arbitration and would be on a purely voluntary basis. Even a limited degree of compulsion, as is the case in some Member States, would probably render any solution unattractive.
In relation to disputes between EWCs and management, Ms Diamantopoulou said that there were now about 650 agreements in place which provided for "transnational interaction" between employer and employee. She expected more transnational agreements as new European companies were developed: these agreements were likely to be more complex and difficult to negotiate. EU-level dispute resolution could therefore have a role to play in assisting management and employees to interpret existing agreements or in helping them reach an agreement in the first place.
EU-level mediation might also be of help in relation to those agreements between the social partners which have become Community law, for example parental leave, part-time work and fixed term contracts (see further below). Until now the social partners have requested that any matter relating to the interpretation of these agreements at European level should first be referred to the Commission for an opinion. Ms Diamantopoulou considered that EU-level mediation might be a more useful forum when differences on questions of interpretation arise - or even in...