Bargaining for social rights: reducing precariousness and labour market segmentation through collective bargaining and social dialogue
Summary of the project
One of the key concerns related to the post-industrial labour markets of EU countries is the tendency towards increased levels of precarious work, accompanied by processes of segmentation and exclusion. Growing proportions of the active population do not correspond to the traditional industrial type of employment with full-time open-ended contracts, access to social security arrangements and represented by trade unions. Increasingly the labour market is fragmented, with employment statuses like fixed term contracts, part-time contracts, temporary agency workers, dependent self-employment and informal work becoming increasingly important. Depending on the specific national situation, the individuals in such non-standard jobs are often in disadvantage where employment and social rights are concerned, both from a legal point of view (labour and social security legislation) and from the perspective of other forms of labour market regulation (collective agreements, company policies, employment policy). Moreover, the disadvantages that derive from these non-standard employment forms often accumulate among specific social groups like the young, migrants or women. It is these groups that are over-represented among the precariously employed.
Reducing precariousness and segmentation and improving the social rights of precarious workers has become a priority for governments, trade unions and employers’ organizations across Europe. At EU level this is manifested most clearly by the prominent role of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, including a series of social rights. Also, a number of Directives (e.g. those on pert-time and fixed-term employment) aim to increase the social rights of the employed, while the European Employment Strategy urges member states to complement the increasing flexibility in the labour market with decent social security and stable employment relationships. At the same time, it is the economic character of the European integration process and its emphasis on marketization, privatization and internationalization that to an important extent drives the growth of precarious employment. Also at national level a drive towards flexible employment relationships has been ongoing for decades while this has not to a similar extent been compensated for by providing flexible workers with new securities. Indeed, as indicated above, the concerns over precarious work have not yet translated in a general decline of such employment. Most previous research on precarious work has focused on the analysis of the labour market structures, vulnerable groups, different dimensions of precariousness and state policies that increase or decrease levels of precariousness. The main focus of the present project is on the contribution that trade unions can make to the reduction of precarious employment through collective bargaining and social dialogue. The project will study experiences in six EU countries: Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the UK. Unions are important co-regulators of the labour market through the collective and other agreements that they conclude as well as through the influence they exert on state policy through social dialogue. As a result they potentially have the possibility to reduce precariousness and segmentation in the labour market. The capacity they have to do so and the effective use they make of this capacity differs between countries and is expected to depend on a number of factors. One concerns the general characteristics of the industrial relations system, in particular the coverage rate of collective agreements, the levels of membership of and power relations between employers and unions, and the importance and impact of social dialogue. The second concerns the standards set by (national and European) labour law and social security legislation and the bargaining space legislation allows for. The third concerns the extent and type of precariousness in the labour market. And the fourth concerns the interests and ideas of the bargaining partners, the extent to which they try to represent the various types of precarious employment, and the experience they have had with bargaining about precarious work, including the availability of successful examples and good practices.
The project intends first to take stock of these four categories of variables in the six countries mentioned. Secondly, it will investigate to what extent and how different forms of precarious employment are indeed addressed in collective agreements (at sector and/or company level depending on the national situation) and agreements stemming from social dialogue. Thirdly, the effect of these agreements on precariousness will be discussed. And finally, a comparison of the country studies will be made, based on which lessons for future bargaining will be drawn.
Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS) of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (project leader: prof. Maarten Keune)
Marta Kahancová – Local Leadership – prípadové štúdie o Slovensku
Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS) of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Hans Bockler Stiftung, WSI, Duesseldorf, Germany.
Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU) of the Warwick Business School (WBS), University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.
The Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI), Bratislava, Slovakia.
The Employment Relations Research Centre (FAOS) of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
The University of Teramo, Italy