Already in 1995, an organisation called the Development Council was established jointly by the social partners in central government. It was steered by a board appointed by the social partners and its core mission was to support joint projects at the agency level according to applications put forth by local social partners. Many of these projects were successfully completed, reported and evaluated. Additionally, some projects in the fields of gender equality, transparency, ethics, diversity and master educational programmes were carried out by the council itself.
By an agreement in 2008, the national social partners changed the organisation’s mission and name. Since then, it has been called the Central Government Social Partners’ Council or, in short, the Social Partners’ Council (Rådet för partsgemensamt stöd inom det statliga avtalsområdet or Partsrådet) and its mission is to provide support to the local social partners’ implementation of core aspects of the collective agreements reached by the national social partners.
According to a collective agreement, the Social Partners’ Council is financed by contributions from the central government agencies. These contributions are a small percentage of the monthly wage costs. Money that is not expended is funded and used by the council later.
The board is in charge of strategic issues with a focus on overall analysis, the establishment of working areas, targets and alignment questions, and the follow-up and evaluation of the council’s activities. According to the statutes, consensus is needed from the social partners for all council decisions.
The board of the Social Partners’ Council appoints a joint steering group for each working area. Project staff are hired as consultants or seconded from the social partners.
There is also a national assembly (Representantskapet) of 30 members, half of them from the employer side and half representing the unions, that provides general direction to the board. The assembly also approves the annual financial report, serves as forum for sharing council information, and is an arena for dialogue and operational intelligence.
Being connected to central agreements causes the social partners to take joint responsibility for implementing the agreements. These agreements are sometimes diffuse, but the joint responsibility of the Social Partners’ Council works against sub-optimisation by over-reliance on a single partner.
Sharing responsibility for the organisation, its financing and operations, creates a deepened understanding of the respective social partners’ different rationalities; this might very well contribute to the ability to reach mutual agreements.
The joint approach is very welcome by central government agencies since the work applies equally well to the local employers as well as the unions.
The activities and tools delivered by the Social Partners’ Council are very popular and appreciated by local social partners.
But, there are some qualifications worth mentioning:
The consensus model is time-consuming, which may slow down the tempo in which activities are delivered from new working areas. The need for consensus may also cause social partners with operational responsibilities to delegate their decisions upwards at times.
The scope of the council’s operations is limited by the fact that these are closely steered by the social partners, which means that council issues may compete with other more traditional priorities.
Although the financial contribution from the agencies is small, the money collected may grow to a level where opinions are expressed that they should be used for other purposes.