21. Social Dialogue and Tripartism

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
8.8, 10.4, 16.1, 16.6, 16.7
Relevant Policy Outcomes
1, 2, 7, 10,

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

Fair terms of employment, decent working conditions, safety and health at work and development for the benefit of all cannot be achieved without the active involvement of workers, employers and governments through social dialogue.

Social dialogue is defined by the ILO to include all types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between, or among, representatives of government, worker and employers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy. Social dialogue takes many different forms. It may exist as a tripartite process, with the government as an official party to the dialogue, or it may consist of bipartite relations between the representatives of labour and management at company level (or trade unions and employers' organizations at higher levels). Social dialogue may be informal or institutionalized, and often involves both. It may take place at the national, regional, international, cross-border or local levels. It may involve the social partners in different economic sectors, within a single sector or in a single company or group of companies(61). All ILO instruments are the result of a tripartite process. However, ILO conventions that are particularly important for social dialogue include: the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No.98), the Tripartite Consultation Convention,1976 (No.144), and the Collective Bargaining Convention, 1981 (No.154). Further guidance is provided by the Collective agreements Recommendation, 1951 (No. 91), and the Co-operation at the Level of the Undertaking Recommendation, 1952 (No. 94); the Consultation (Industrial and National Levels) Recommendation, 1960 (No. 113); the Communications within the Undertaking Recommendation, 1967 (No.129); the Examination of Grievances Recommendation, 1967 (No. 130); the Tripartite Consultation (Activities of the ILO) Recommendation, 1976 (No.152); and the Collective Bargaining Recommendation, 1981 (No. 163).

Institutions for social dialogue, which is based on the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, take into account each country’s cultural, historical, economic and political context. There is no standard model of social dialogue that can be applied uniformly across countries or exported from one country to another. Adapting social dialogue institutions and practices to the national situation is key to ensuring effective representation in the process and its outcomes. There is a rich diversity in institutional arrangements, legal frameworks and traditions and practices of social dialogue throughout the world. The tremendous contribution of social dialogue to peace and stability was recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee when it awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

Social dialogue includes:
  • negotiation, consultation and information exchange between and among the different actors;
  • collective bargaining between representatives of employers and of workers;
  • dispute prevention and resolution;
  • tripartite social dialogue on matters of economic and social policy; and
  • other instruments of social dialogue, including international framework agreements.
Social dialogue can only function effectively if certain preconditions are in place. These include:
  • strong, independent workers' and employers' organizations with the required technical capacity and access to information;
  • 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; and
  • an enabling legal and institutional framework (62).
Sound industrial relations including consultation and cooperation, collective bargaining and minimum wage setting through tripartite social dialogue are means to promote better wages and working conditions, as well as peace and social justice. As instruments of good governance, they foster cooperation and democratic participation, helping to create an enabling environment for economic growth and for the realization of the objective of Decent Work at all levels. Engaging in tripartite social dialogue, governments and representative workers’ and employers’ organizations help build strong labour market institutions that contribute to long-term social and economic stability and peace.

Social dialogue needs democratic participation of partners who have the capacity to engage in the process effectively and responsibly, as well as the strength and flexibility to adjust to contemporary circumstances and exploit new opportunities. In some countries, the quality of social dialogue suffers from the limited capacity of workers’ and employers’ organizations, preventing them from effectively participating in governance processes and providing efficient services to members. In other countries, the Ministries in charge of labour issues may sometimes be side-lined in key policy and budgetary decisions; and yet in other countries, the weakening of social dialogue institutions – often with the motive of lowering labour costs and boosting competitiveness – has not necessarily led to the expected effects on economic growth, while it has seriously aggravated inequalities, along with a rapid decline in collective bargaining coverage (63).

The ILO aims to assist member States in establishing or strengthening legal frameworks, institutions, machinery or processes for sound industrial relations dispute and resolution, and for effective social dialogue. It also aims to promote social dialogue between and among member States and regional or sub-regional groupings as a means of consensus building, economic and social development, as well as good governance. It supports the development of knowledge on global industrial relations, in particular the actors and institutions involved in cross-border social dialogue and agreements. The ILO is currently implementing a Plan of Action on Social Dialogue for 2014 – 2017 as a follow up to the discussion on social dialogue at the International Labour Conference in 2013.

DWA-SDG Relationship

While the terms “social dialogue” and “tripartism” do not appear as such in the 2030 Agenda; the Agenda calls for the full recognition and observance of labour rights (SDG target 8.8) with specific mention of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights (8.8.2), for the rule of law (16.3), for accountable institutions (16.6) and for responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels (16.7) – all issues that lay the foundations for social dialogue. The 2030 Agenda’s pledge to involve non-state actors in the national development process can be seen as an opportunity to rejuvenate tripartite social dialogue. Moreover, social dialogue can contribute significantly to “enhancing policy coherence for sustainable development” (17.14). It is therefore important that the global workers’ and employers' organizations – the IOE and the ITUC – are actively involved in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda [see for example: (64) and (65)].

Social dialogue is at the heart of the ILO and constitutes one of the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda. The Declaration of Philadelphia encapsulates ILO's commitment to social dialogue with the statement that:

the war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigour within each nation, and by continuous and concerted international effort in which the representatives of workers and employers, enjoying equal status with those of governments, join with them in free discussion and democratic decision with a view to the promotion of the common welfare" and to further among nations "the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining, the cooperation of management and labour in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency, and the collaboration of workers and employers in the preparation and application of social and economic measures.

None of ILO’s ten policy outcomes can be achieved without social dialogue, and three of them, namely PO 1 (more and better jobs for inclusive growth), PO 2 (labour standards), PO 7 (compliance) and PO 10 (workers and employers) are particularly important for social dialogue.

Cross-cutting policy drivers

Social dialogue is a cross-cutting policy driver in the ILO's Programme and Budget; it is also a contributor to another policy driver, namely international labour standards. Social dialogue is essential to ensure gender equality and to fight any form of discrimination, and it is indispensable to ensure a just and fair transition to a greener economy.


Social dialogue implies partnerships through tripartite and bipartite processes. The workers’ and employers' organizations around the world, both at national, regional and global levels, can be seen as ILO’s “partners” in addition to being the Organization’s constituents. In many cases, the Office may enter into thematic partnerships with workers’ and employers’ organizations so as to jointly advance elements of the Decent Work Agenda; for example, the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network (TUDCN) plays an important role in promoting decent work priorities in global development forums; and the IOE has established a sustainable development policy working group. The ILO has also entered into a cooperation agreement with the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (AICESIS), which is an association of national institutions involved in social dialogue.

ILO Capacity

The ILO’s work on tripartite social dialogue is coordinated by the Social Dialogue and Tripartism Unit (DIALOGUE) in the GOVERNANCE Department. Work on Labour (Industrial) Relations and Collective Bargaining is coordinated by the Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch (INWORK) in the WORKQUALITY Department. In the field most Decent Work technical teams include social dialogue or industrial relations specialists, many of whom cover additional subjects such as wages, labour administration and labour standards. An up-to-date list of social dialogue specialists is provided here.

The nature of social dialogue and the centrality of tripartite social dialogue, together with sound labour relations and collective bargaining means that other units of the GOVERNANCE Department (LABOURLAW), the specialists (headquarters and field) of the Bureaux for Employers' Activities (ACT/EMP) and for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV), as well as many additional technical units, contribute to making social dialogue more effective and inclusive. The ILO Sectoral Policies Department (SECTOR) promotes social dialogue in specific economic sectors.


The ILO topic page on Tripartism and on Labour Relations and Collective Bargaining provides access to a large compilation of publications, reports and databases related to social dialogue. This includes an Additional material, including on training opportunities, can be found at the social dialogue page of the ITC Turin.

61. ILO. Social dialogue - finding a common voice. Geneva : ILO, n.d.

62. —. Tripartism and Social Dialogue. ILO - Topics. [Online] 21 November 2016. /global/topics/workers-and-employers-organizations-tripartism-and-social-dialogue/lang--en/index.htm.

63. Vaughan-Whitehead, Daniel (Ed.). Inequalities and the World of Work: What Role for Industrial Relations and Social Dialogue?. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

64. IOE. IOE Overview of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.. Geneva : IOE, 2016.

65. Simmonds, Matt. The SDGs’ Summit and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. ITUC-CSI. [Online] 18 September 2015. https://www.ituc-csi.org/sdgs-summit-2030-agenda.