The evolution of standard and non-standard employment relationship regulation in Europe and other regions of the world

A sequence analysis of regulation patterns over four decades

Jean-Yves Gerlitz, University of Bremen

Labour law intends to regulate the fictitious commodity labour and establish workers’ rights. The construct ‘standard employment relationship’ (SER) combines norms that provide employment continuity, social protection and collective rights, predominantly in relation with a full-time contract provided by a large employer. This indicates ‘normative segmentation’, i.e., the conditionality of legal protection on the employment relation, worker’s characteristics or the workplace, such as seniority, minimum working hours, pay or company size. Although SER regulation and implementation varies significantly around the world, it is regarded as an ideal legal type connected to high profile protection. With the rise of the neo-liberal paradigm in the 1980s employers and their representatives demanded a flexibilisation of labour regulation to guarantee economic efficiency and employment growth. Consequently, SER’s social protection was reduced and restrictions of non-standard employment relationships (NSER) were lowered. In Europe, effects of deregulation have already led to feedback reforms to establish equal treatment of NSER.

This paper analysis, how different patterns of labour regulation have evolved in Europe and other regions of the world (Northern America and Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia), indicating the trajectories of regulative change. Drawing on trend data of the Cambridge Labour Regulation Index (CBR-LRI) and looking at 86 countries, we combine four dimensions of SER (dismissal protection and working time limitation) and NSER (restriction and equal treatment of NSER) regulation to distinguish different regulation patterns. We see that the singular regulative pattern of rather low protection for both the SER and NSER in 1970 diversified until 2010. In a first step, we categorise each country each year according to its SER and NSER regulation as a highly regulated, lowly regulated or moderately regulated country. In a second step, we perform sequence analysis to identify and map patterns of regulative change over four decades. In a third step, we explain observed trajectories by looking at various macro-economic indicators, welfare state characteristics and membership in transnational organisations, respectively their key policies.

The study helps to understand how national labour law has developed in Europe and other regions of the world, focusing both on its protective and segmenting function. Furthermore, it shows how regulation patterns were influenced by economic conditions, domestic institutions, and policies of transnational actors.