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Social agents

Although some donor organisations include them under the category of “civil society”, trade unions and business associations have a distinct role in labour policy, as well as their own consultation and bargaining mechanisms (usually known as social dialogue), so the INSPIRED approach tackles them as a different stakeholder from CSOs. Besides, the fact that a number of INSPIRED dialogue processes have taken place under the framework of GSP+, the EU’s scheme that links trade advantages to the ratification of international conventions on labour rights –among others–, has determined the choice of policy topics that are closely related to social dialogue, albeit with a focus on vulnerable groups. When addressing the labour rights of Armenian women, of people with disabilities in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan or of Cape-Verdean domestic workers, to the strengthening of the labour mediation mechanism in Georgia, many INSPIRED Dialogue Hosts have strived to engage trade unions and business associations as stakeholders in their dialogue processes with varying success.
First of all, it has to be noted that social agents remain strongly attached to their own form of bargaining and negotiation, tripartite social dialogue, which in many cases they consider undermined by the proliferation of other dialogue fora including civil society organisations and other actors. This legitimate concern, however, doesn’t hold together in countries where the majority of the workforce isn’t unionised or where a whole sector –such as domestic workers– is not even covered by social legislation. Not to speak of the former Soviet space, where trade unions are still associated with the previous regime and remain stigmatised in the eyes of the population.
It is precisely in such contexts where social agents have shown more openness towards engaging in policy dialogue, albeit with some difficulties to step out of the “labour framework” in order to see the broader policy landscape. This is partly due to some sort of path dependency, but also to their actual mandate, which in the case of trade unions limits the scope of their negotiations to the interests of their affiliates. On their side, business associations also look after their constituents, but are equally interested in promoting any legislative work and economic measures that can improve the business environment in their countries, which makes them more prone to engaging in advocacy and lobbying. On both sides, there is a long-standing tradition of mutual distrust that can easily jeopardize the trust dynamics that the dialogue process aims at developing.