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Global initiative to strengthen social dialogue
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Global initiative to strengthen social dialogue

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo: Maud Bernos/OECD

The Corona pandemic has shown the importance of making quick decisions – but these also need public support. That is why social dialogue is so important. Global Deal, launched by Sweden together with the OECD and the ILO, is one of the few initiatives looking at social dialogue from an international perspective.

Global Deal was launched at a 2016 UN meeting by Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Angel Gurría and Guy Ryder, who head the OECD and the ILO respectively.

In 2018, the OECD took over the responsibility for the global partnership working for social dialogue and better labour market conditions globally. A secretariat at the OECD for Global Deal was also established. 

“The strength of the Global Deal is that it is a broader cooperation than the two- or tripartite cooperation in the labour market, which is particularly important here in the Nordic region. It is a concept that also covers civil society, voluntary organisations, humanitarian assistance and many other groups,” says Laila Abdallah, Special Advisor for Global Deal at the Swedish Ministry of Employment.

112 partners

Global Deal currently has 112 partners ranging from countries, trade unions, companies and voluntary organisations. Partners are expected to support the underlying principles for social dialogue and to make commitments to promote social dialogue. Everything is voluntary and the initiative is not legally binding. 

The initiative was recently extended by two years and will run until December 2022. During this time the Global Deal partners will focus on raising awareneness of the initiative to attract more stakeholders, while also exploring ways of building capacity.  

“The social dialogue, which the Nordics are known for, makes it possible to adapt faster to changing surroundings than if you have to go down the legal route, which often takes a very long time. This has been shown to be true not least during the Corona pandemic when it has been important to for instance adapt labour forces very quickly, like getting airline staff to work in the health sector,” says Laila Abdallah.

Löfven and Gurría

A good atmosphere between OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven during Global Deal’s conference in February last year – before the Corona pandemic hit.

So far the initiative’s strongest political support has come from Sweden and France. The question is what happens when the new OECD Secretary-General, Australian Mathias Cormann, takes over on 1 June.  

“Both Angel Gurría and Guy Ryder at the ILO have been very engaged in the Global Deal. They have participated in several meetings and conferences in relation to the Global Deal, and I know that Mr Gurría has raised Global Deal in his conversations with various state leaders,” says Veronica Nilsson, head of the secretariat.

It is hardly a secret that Sweden’s candidate for OECD Secretary-General, Cecilia Malmström, had been the favourite at the Swedish Ministry of Employment. That would have made it easier to create attention for Global Deal. 

Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Trade Anna Hallberg heads the Global Deal steering committee, which also includes Gurría and Ryder.  

Beyond the pandemic

Social dialogue is of course not something that is only needed to deal with the Corona pandemic. It is needed on all levels in order to meet the challenges associated with moving to a greener economy, the consequences of globalisation and many other issues. It is also needed because trade union power has been eroded. 

“Falling trade union membership is a global trend and we also face major challenges that call for more social dialogue. The collective bargaining coverage rate within the OECD has fallen from 45% in 1985 to 32% in 2017,” points out Veronica Nilsson.

The partners in Global Deal share their social dialogue experiences. One example is how the Swedish state alcohol shops Systembolaget together with the Union trade union and the International Union of Food Workers, IUF, try to improve working conditions in South Africa’s wine industry. South Africa is the most popular wine producer in Sweden. 

The industry is split into many smaller vineyards, however. Trade unions often lack the necessary resources or organisational skills to talk to management on an equal footing. 

Building capacity

“We have put a lot of work into building capacity going forward, and in March this year we launched what we call a ‘Global Deal Masterclass on Sound Industrial Relations’. This online course covers five subjects, such as grievance handling, how to perform collective bargainings and how social dialogue could be used in times of social crisis,” says Veronica Nilsson.

The other two topics are workplace cooperation and gender equality.

So what is the most important argument for joining Global Deal?

“By joining the Global Deal, partners send a strong signal that they share the ambition to achieve more social dialogue to deal with the challenges in the labour market, such as new technology, lack of decent work, and increasing inequalities. The Global Deal offers a platform to share experiences and good practices, where partners can learn from each other and have an exchange of ideas. The Global Deal also contributes with research and capacity building.”

Does Sweden sometimes underestimate how foreign social dialogue is in many countries?

“I believe there is great understanding in Sweden for the fact that conditions are different in other countries. But that is also why a global initiative is needed. No matter how much we cooperate in Sweden, it won’t solve the global challenges.”

Global Deal

held a conference on 4 February 2020 before the pandemic hit. The ILO’s Secretary-General Guy Ryder and Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Trade  Anna Hallberg were among the panellists who discussed social dialogue (above).

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