Council of Europe

What is the Council of Europe and what is the European Social Charter?

The Council of Europe (CoE) is a political organisation, founded in 1949, to defend and promote the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The IOE is actively involved in the work of the CoE, with a particular focus on implementation of the European Social Charter of 1961 (ESC), which is a treaty of the CoE that guarantees social and economic rights. When ratified, the ESC’s provisions have binding force in the CoE 47 Member States.

Why are the CoE and the ESC relevant to business?

The ESC guarantees rights, such as the right to a fair remuneration; the right to organise and bargain collectively; the right to social security; and the right to protection in cases of termination of employment. The influence of this treaty and the outcomes of its supervisory bodies into national legislations and national judicial review should not be underestimated, even if, strictly speaking, they are not enforceable in domestic legal systems. Nevertheless, the Members of the CoE are required – by diplomatic pressure – to take measures to give effect under their domestic law to the ESC supervisory bodies decisions. States tend to conform to these decisions, by adapting their legislation and/or practice. In so doing, they avoid the negative exposure of being found to be in “non-conformity” with the Charter. However, this is not always the case.

What is the IOE‘s position on the ESC?

The IOE considers the ESC as an important means to advance and defend social and economic rights within the CoE Member States. However, there is increasing concern as to the effectiveness of ESC supervision, and on the exact role and mandate of the main ESC’s supervisory body. Over time, this body has developed an increasing number of rigid and one-sided interpretations of the ESC.

How does the IOE’s work in the CoE and with the ESC advance the agenda for business?

The IOE has consultative status within the CoE, which allows it to gain a deeper understanding of the application of the ESC, and also to play an important role in communicating the business perspective. Through the IOE, members have a formal opportunity to counter the Charter’s supervisory bodies’ observations and to prevent diplomatic escalations of Charter violations. Recently the IOE is increasingly involved in supporting employers’ organisations in facing collective complaints presented by trade unions before the ESC’s supervisory bodies.

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