Social Dialogue

Social Dialogue: an essential driver of Decent Work

Effective social dialogue and sound industrial relations are key components of achieving decent work in the garment industry. Since its inception, Better Work has engaged with workers’ and employers’ organizations to promote dialogue and establish sustainable mechanisms for consultations and negotiations at the factory, sector, country and global levels.

Facilitating communication and building trust between workers and management have been central to our work and success in improving compliance in factories. Better Work’s diverse interventions related to improved social dialogue have included delivering workplace communication training, facilitating gender-balanced bipartite worker-management committees and engaging with sectoral and national institutions, among other activities.
We recognize that a re-investment in a broadened approach to social dialogue is crucial. To create long-lasting and sustainable improvements in the industry, the increased capacity of constituents engaging in social dialogue at all levels is crucial: at the factory but also increasingly at the sectoral, country and global levels as well.

By promoting social dialogue in factories, we are actively supporting management and workers to identify their needs and improve their working relationships and communication, with workers feeling more comfortable to express their opinion and needs as a result. This provides a strong basis for the effective prevention and remediation of problems.

In the context of the pandemic, Better Work built a menu of virtual services – including compliance checks, revamped training sessions, workers’ surveys and virtual platforms for worker-management dialogue – that allowed the programme to stay closely connected to factories and workers even when pandemic safety measures made travel difficult.

By virtue of its tripartite nature, Better Work also focuses on boosting communication and social dialogue at the sectoral level, supporting dialogue among government, private sector and trade union actors. Better Work’s strong partnership and communication channels with global supply chain partners, including global brands, retailers and manufacturers helps to support an enabling environment for social dialogue to take place.

Better Work’s Impact on Social Dialogue

Research shows that the more mature social dialogue in place across Better Work factories has led workers to fare better in terms of higher pay, fewer working hours, better working environments and stronger empowerment and agency. Based on this, workers in Better Work factories show a greater willingness to take their concerns with abusive behaviour to their supervisor or manager, suggesting greater trust in expressing grievances in the factory. A better communication environment is directly linked to both a higher likelihood of workers’ confidence in their ability to do their job and to feel empowered to express their thoughts at the workplace. Job confidence and empowerment are found to be correlated to a higher chance that workers think their job is worthwhile.

Studies show that the stronger the industrial relations system is in a workplace, including the presence and implementation of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the more likely factories are to meet and uphold compliance with regular and over-time wages, paid leave requirements and contracts.

Compliance assessment results across Cambodia, Haiti, Indonesia, Jordan, Nicaragua and Viet Nam demonstrated that factories with both a CBA and union presence had, on average, non-compliance rates that were nearly 10 percent lower than those who had not.

Research with Better Work data suggest that workers are more likely to report improvements in their conditions of work and better working conditions in general when bipartite committees are present. Also, fewer workers reported verbal abuse in the same factories. Workers were also more likely to seek their trade union representatives in the presence of the programme’s worker-management committees.

Better Work Action Plan

In this phase, Better Work is working closely with other ILO units and constituents to further strengthen social dialogue at all levels– enterprise, sector, and national. Research clearly shows the positive impact of Better Work’s support in establishing bipartite committees at the factory level, as well as the increased compliance outcomes when unions and CBAs are present. Recognizing that social dialogue in these various forms leads to positive outcomes for workers and business, and in response to changing national legislation and priorities, Better Work is aligning with key ILO units to support and promote the most appropriate and sustainable form of social dialogue in each country programme. This may mean the establishment of bipartite committees but could also be working to increase access for unions, strengthening sectoral constituents or working with existing factory committees or grievance mechanisms. Better Work’s approach to social dialogue aligns with and supports ILO and national priorities. Our Social Dialogue Action Plan is responsive and designed to evolve over the lifetime of our strategy, Sustaining Impact, 2022/27. In consultation with global and national partners, we will continue to refine our action plans to ensure they support long-term, progressive change.

1Promoting inclusive, representative and effective social dialogue structures and mechanism

Promoting inclusive, representative and effective social dialogue structures and mechanisms focused on different forms of bipartite committees, enterprise and sectoral unions and other workplace cooperation mechanisms;

2Supports the strengthening of institutions and systems to address grievances and disputes

Establishing and strengthening institutions and systems to address grievances and disputes arising inside and outside the enterprise by supporting the work of other ILO units and national priorities;

3Supporting ILO efforts towards more mature forms of industrial relations, including an enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining,

Supporting ILO efforts towards more mature forms of industrial relations, including an enabling environment for freedom of association and collective bargaining, where requested by employers and workers at an enterprise or sector level;

4Supporting ILO focus on stronger social dialogue policy and institutions

Supporting ILO focus on stronger social dialogue policy and institutions by broadly sharing Better Work data, evidence base and capacity building to industry stakeholders to advance their respective mandates in line with their appropriate role as well as facilitating access to data to support evidence-based social dialogue and bargaining capacities

Better Work’s current Strategic Phase: Sustaining our impact in 2022-27 and beyond

Strategic Priorities

Better Work five-year strategy (2022-27) embraces innovation around a set of strategic priorities to adapt to the needs of the garment and footwear industry around the world.

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