Social dialogue

According to the ILO Director General Guy Ryder: ‘When you look at apprenticeship systems around the world, the most important success factor is practically always social dialogue. Apprenticeships work because they link classroom and workplace training and because they tap the knowledge of both employers and workers on what training is needed and how to deliver it’. 1


The aim of this chapter is to define social dialogue and then present a series of examples demonstrating ways in which it is central to the functioning of Quality Apprenticeship systems, at both the national and sectoral levels.

Social dialogue, a cornerstone of the ILO’s work, includes all types of negotiation and consultation or even simply an exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy - as may be seen in box 9.

Box 1: Common forms of social dialogue

  • Information sharing: one of the most basic and indispensable elements. In itself, it implies no real discussion or action on issues, but it is nevertheless essential.
  • Consultation: beyond a mere sharing of information. This requires engagement through an exchange of views, which can, in turn, lead to more in-depth dialogue.
  • Negotiations and the conclusion of agreements: while many institutions make use of consultation and information sharing, some are empowered to reach binding agreements. Those institutions that do not have the mandate to do this normally serve in an advisory capacity to ministries, legislators and policy-makers.
  • Collective bargaining: an integral or widespread form of social dialogue and a useful indicator of the capacity within a country to engage in national-level tripartism. Collective bargaining takes place at enterprise, sectoral, regional, national and even multinational level.

The main goal of social dialogue itself is to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in the world of work. Successful social dialogue structures and processes have the potential to resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social and industrial peace and stability, and boost economic progress.

However, in order for social dialogue to take place effectively, the following conditions must exist:

  • Strong, independent trade unions and employers' associations with the technical capacity and the access to relevant information to participate in social dialogue;
  • Political will and commitment to engage in social dialogue on the part of all the parties;
  • Respect for the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Appropriate institutional support.

Social dialogue deals with a variety of different industrial relations issues – political transition, employment policies, wages, social security, the informal economy, gender equality, fundamental rights at work, the greening of the economy, and labour law (ILO, 2013a).

Social dialogue may also deal with Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) - and more specifically apprenticeship training.

Social dialogue and Quality Apprenticeships

Social dialogue is particularly important for the design and implementation of Quality Apprenticeship training policy. Indeed the ILO has agreed that its member States should “define, with the involvement of the social partners, a national strategy for education and training, as well as establish a guiding framework for training policies at national, regional, local, and sectoral and enterprise levels”.2 A study on the comparative analysis of national skills development policies of 12 countries finds that collective bargaining can foster a learning culture and ensure quality of learning at the workplace (Aggarwal, 2013).

Across OECD countries, ‘the engagement of social partners – both employers, unions, and professional associations is necessary to ensure that the organisation and the content of vocational programs meets the needs of employers, the wider economy and students…. Social partner engagement is also crucial both for national level policy development and to ensure adequate policy implementation.’(Fazekas and Field, 2013)

The relationship between social dialogue and Quality Apprenticeship training takes various forms in different countries. Tripartite, and also bipartite, bodies exist in many countries to formulate, implement and monitor apprenticeship training policy. Similarly, apprenticeship training may be the subject of negotiations between the governments and the social partners - or just between the employers’ association and trade unions.

In the EU, the cross-industry social partners at European level have engaged strongly in the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. In 2013, they signed a Joint Declaration with the European Commission and the Council Presidency (from Lithuania), and they engaged on apprenticeships through their Framework of Actions on Youth Employment. Through their work on the quality and effectiveness of apprenticeships, and their Joint Statement from 2016, they have provided an important push for the upcoming European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships.

1 Speaking at the launch of the B20 and L20 ‘Joint Understanding on Key Elements of Quality Apprenticeship,’ 18 June 2013, in Geneva.

2Paragraph 5(a) of the ILO Human Resources Development Recommendation, 2004 (No. 195), available at: /dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:R195 [accessed 28 February 2017].