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Social dialogue can sound like a lofty concept but it comes into focus when we consider an average garment worker. Let’s take a garment worker in Indonesia for example. Today is pay day, but for the third month in a row management has failed to make its social security payments to workers. Still, our worker is forced to work overtime. She wants to speak up and demand that the factory pays her what she’s due, but she knows that if she does she will be harassed by management, or, at worst, fired. With a family to feed at home, that’s too big of a risk for her to take. However, without the ability to come together with her fellow workers to complain and demand better, she and her colleagues are left powerless. That’s where social dialogue comes in. Social dialogue helps workers out of these types of situations by giving them the tools to negotiate for better working conditions. This means that they have the opportunity to form unions and bargain collectively. Only once these rights to organise are in place are workers able to engage in what we call social dialogue with employers and others.
At its most basic level, social dialogue is the act of workers and employers (or trade unions and employers’ organisations) coming together to discuss issues related to working conditions. Sometimes social dialogue can also include a third party, such as a governmental organisation that can help mediate or provide guidance.
The right to join or form a union is key to giving workers a collective voice and empowering them to improve their situations. It can take place at various levels and in various forms.