Info Sheet: preconditions for social dialogue

NTSD (national tripartite social dialogue) cannot operate effectively in a country in the absence of certain preconditions. The most important preconditions are freedom of association, long-term commitment and institutional support. Each of these conditions is set out below.


a) Democratic foundations and freedom of association

First and foremost, social dialogue is built on respect for, and implementation of, freedom of association. It requires a climate free from violence, pressure and threats of any kind against the leaders and members of employees’ and employers’ organizations. If employees and employers cannot organize freely, then they cannot discuss freely.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining include:

  1. the right of employees and employers to form and join organizations of their own choosing, and to do so without prior authorization;
  2. the free functioning of those organizations;
  3. the right to elect representatives in full freedom;
  4. the right of organizations to organize their internal administration;
  5. the right of organizations to freely organize their activities and to formulate their programs;
  6. the right to strike;
  7. the right to form federations and confederations and affiliate to international organizations of employees and employers;
  8. protection against anti-union discrimination;
  9. protection against acts of interference;
  10. the right to bargain collectively.

The role of the government in providing an enabling environment for social dialogue is of paramount importance. Public authorities are responsible for enacting appropriate laws and regulations for the protection and enforcement of the freedom of association.

b) Long-term commitment

Tripartite social dialogue at the national level takes time. On certain issues, it can even last for years. It, therefore, requires long-term commitment and patience, especially from the part of a government.

While social dialogue can be an effective means to ease economic and social tensions, the effort of the social partners and the government to engage in social dialogue should be maintained once the country is out of the severe economic adjustment phase, to ensure the sustainability of the positive outcomes adopted during the crisis.

Further, in countries in which social dialogue may not result in an agreement, tripartite actors must not interrupt their dialogue but rather make efforts to continue talking with each other to build trust and restore confidence. There is no credible and viable alternative to social dialogue, as several country examples have shown.

c) Appropriate institutional support

While tripartite consultations can be informal and ad hoc, creating NTSD institutions can often be helpful to firmly establish social dialogue as part of the decision-making process of a country. In this case, the government, in cooperation with the social partners, should ensure that the institutions established are effective, properly resourced and sustainable.

A basic requirement for an appropriate institutional support is a sound legislative framework for tripartite social dialogue at the national level that provides a solid foundation for a practice, which otherwise would be vulnerable to changing political attitudes. The legislation should provide the necessary guarantees and protection, and should define the forms of cooperation between the social partners, as well as the principles, procedures and functions of tripartite bodies.

In addition, the institutional framework for social dialogue could foresee:

i) support by a strong and efficient labor administration;
ii) labor dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms;
iii) institutions that facilitate collective bargaining; and
iv) institutions that produce statistics and other needed information.

Source: National tripartite social dialogue: an ILO guide for improved governance / International Labour Office, Social Dialogue and Tripartism Unit, Governance and Tripartism Department. – Geneva: ILO, 2013