Interplay between labour law and collective bargaining in the promotion of elderly workers and prolonged working lives

The differences in job quality among higher education graduates in Europe: A cross-national analysis of 17 countries

Jenny Julén Votinius, Faculty of Law, Lund University

The ageing of Europe’s population will have fundamental implications for the labour market. For labour law, the ageing population in Europe has brought to the fore questions on age discrimination and ageism, along with an urgency to enable and encourage employees to stay longer in the labour market before retiring. Starting from legislation and policies on EU and national level, this paper argues that collective bargaining may considerably contribute to realizing the prolongation of working lives, due to its unique ability offer tailor-made solutions. When it comes to older employees, this ability is particularly important, as the ageing workforce is a group that is characterized by an unusually high level of heterogeneity.

Collective bargaining for older employees takes place within a legal and policy framework where the ban on age discrimination in EU law and the agenda for active ageing in EU policy forms an important part of the background. As regards age discrimination, EU law feeds into national legislation in a very direct and specific way – not least through the CJEU’s case law on the Equal treatment (framework) directive 2000/78/EC. This is in contrast with the policy agenda on active ageing; although this agenda is strongly promoted by the EU, almost all the details are left to the Member States.

Many EU Member States have introduced at least some form of statutory regulation to promote extended working lives (Eurofound, 2013). Normally, statutory law provides the general framework, and in many cases also financial incentives, while the social partners to varying degrees contribute to the detailed design and implementation. In a number of countries, comprehensive tripartite agreements have been concluded to introduce longer working life strategies. This is the case in, for instance, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and France (Claisse, Daniel and Naboulet , 2011). In some countries, such as France, Germany and Denmark, the social partners have also concluded sectoral-level agreements in the matter, beyond the statutory framework. The paper discusses such collective bargaining practices in relation to a number of measures that often are highlighted as key factors in the promotion of longer working lives: working conditions, work environment and work organization; workforce and career development; and age-awareness and attitudes in the workplace (Edge, Cooper and Coffey, 2017; Blackham, 2016).

Drawing on labour market research and using a number of national examples of collectively bargained solutions to promote longer working lives, the paper discusses how effective strategies to meet the challenges of an ageing workforce can translate into collective agreements and thus become a part of the everyday life in the workplace. The paper claims that there is an important unused potential in collective bargaining for targeting the situation of older workers, and suggests that it would be rational for both employers and trade unions to increase their engagement in the area of collective bargaining for older employees.