Engagement and cooperation in collective action

The role of `shared values‘

Sabrina Weber, Pforzheim University
Barbara Bechter, Durham University Business School
Manuela Galetto, University of Warwick
Bengt Larsson, University of Gothenburg
Tom Prosser, Cardiff University


We investigate the reasons behind engagement and cooperation in European sectoral social dialogue. By taking a closer look at two most similar cases of sectoral social dialogue committees (SSDC) with most different outcomes, we outline the role of ‘shared values’ to overcome diverging interests between trade unions and employer organisations, but also within these social partner organisations.


We argue that the intention to engage in SSDC depends on the relevance or importance of topics to (most) affiliates. When actors identify relevant topics of common interest and goal congruence (e. g. solving problems) within and between social partners, this increases the motivation to influence and tackle a certain topic in the SSDC and produce joint outcomes. Goal congruence is more likely when trade unions and employers are able to articulate their goals in terms of (shared) ‘values’ rather than conflicting ‘interests’ (Provis, 1996). We therefore argue that collaborative problem solving and consensus building is more likely if shared values are identified in a certain SSDC.


We use secondary data and primary data in the context of our two cases, the hospital SSDC and the metal SSDC. Our secondary data includes joint social partner texts, work programmes, and meeting minutes. Primary data is made up of interviews with social partners at the national and the European level and observation of SSDC meetings. Where appropriate, we also include quantitative data (on the economic sector, on the 43 SSDCs) to inform our analysis.


Our findings support the assumption that cooperation is more likely to occur in more homogenous SSDCs with ‘shared values’. In the hospital sector, ‘patient safety’ and ‘quality of care’ represent such shared values that allow trade unions and employer organisations to work together to find solutions to staffing problems, high workloads, and stress at work. Values such as ‘quality of services/care’ are supportive of patient safety as well as the reasonable workloads and if workforce is sufficiently well-trained (EPSU, 2017). In the metal sector, ‘digitalisation’ (Ceemet and industriAll, 2016) has to some extent a similar standing, since it connects to both working conditions and competitiveness. However, in comparison with the quality of care in the hospital sector, digitalisation does not (yet) seems to have as strong relevance for all affiliates. Even more, by some digitalisation is seen as a bit of ‘advanced’ topic pushed for by pro-active organizations, large businesses from members states in which this is most topical.


  • Ceemet; industriAll (2016) “The impact of digitalisation on the world of work in the metal, engineering and technology-based industries, by European sector social partners”. Available from: https://www.ceemet.org/sites/default/files/joint_statement_digitalisatio... [Accessed 17 December 2018].
  • EPSU (2017) HOSPEEM-EPSU EU-funded project “Promoting effective recruitment and retention policies for health workers in the EU by ensuring access to CPD and healthy and safe workplaces supportive of patient safety and quality care” (2017–2018). Available from: https://www.epsu.org/sites/default/files/article/files/Summary-Informati... [Accessed 17 December 2018].
  • Provis, C. (1996) Unitarism, pluralism, interest and values. British Journal of Industrial Relations 34(4), 473–495.