Marta Kahancová

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)

Plenary 3: Digitalisation and the new employment relationship

6 September 2019, 13:30–14:30
Venue: Heinrich Heine University (HHU) Düsseldorf Building 23.01, Lecture Hall 3D


Work, organisational shifts and ‘Uberisation’

Stefan Kirchner

Stefan Kirchner is professor for the Sociology of the Working Worlds’ Digitalization at the School VI Planning Building Environment, TU Berlin and the Einstein Center Digital Future, Berlin. Fields of study: work, economy, digitalization.

Online digital platforms as Labour Market Intermediaries (LMIs)

Hans Pongratz

Hans J. Pongratz is adjunct professor at the Department of Sociology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich.  Fields of study: work and organization, self-employment, labour market intermediaries.


Marta Kahancová, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)

Social dialogue in the age of platform economy

Comparative evidence from Europe

Marta Kahancová, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)
Mehtap Akgüç, Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS)

Labour market segmentation and a growing diversification of work structures affected the whole European Union in the past decade. Besides regular employment, diversification of work structures involves various non-standard and often precarious forms of employment. Great innovations in the field of digitalization are however pushing the diversification of work yet in another dimension where non-standard employment is increasingly shifted to various online ‘collaborative platforms’. The collaborative economy refers to “business models where activities are facilitated by collaborative platforms that create an open marketplace for the temporary usage of goods or services often provided by private individuals.”

The platform economy (also known as on-demand economy) brings along new ways for thinking about the labour process and industrial relations. Since work regulation in the collaborative economy often falls outside the traditional regulatory repertoire of the labour law, this phenomenon raises interests to study how work is regulated and how workers’ interests are voiced in order to grant them employment protection and social regulation in the same quality as to workers in regular employment.

This paper addresses the above challenges in the work regulation and workers’ interest representation as part of social dialogue in the platform economy. We analyse how the quality of work of platform workers differs from regular workers; how traditional trade unions view and approach platform workers; and what initiatives unions or similar organisations bringing together platform workers (e.g. collectives, digital groups, social media groups and so on), next to other organisations (e.g., NGOs), initiated in order to raise awareness as regards the employment standards and protection of these workers and thereby contribute to overcoming uncertainty and fragmentations between various forms of work.

After conceptualizing platform economy, we engage in an empirical analysis of platform work and the (potential) role of trade unions and other collective organizations in platform economy in seven EU member states resembling a European diversity in industrial relations systems: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Slovakia. Original empirical evidence has been collected within an EC-funded research project, focusing on the field of (a) transportation services, i.e., Uber, (b) accommodation services, i.e., AirBNB and (c) microwork, i.e. Helpling. The empirical research is based on primary qualitative data collected via semi-structured interviews with different stakeholders including representatives of employees, employers, public authorities as well as platform workers themselves.

Our findings show that there is a diversity of platforms active in respective countries with a differing degree of expansion of respective sectors (transport, delivery, micro-task, accommodation, etc.) under study. For example, the platform work in transport sector is almost non-existent in Germany, while it is more developed and even regulated in the other countries studied under this research. The motivations to work for such platforms are mostly similar across countries and related to supplemental earnings next to the main job – yet, depending on the sector of activity, the dependence of workers on platform show variety across countries.

In terms of social dialogue, we also found a substantial variation in the context of platform work. France and Denmark seem to be the frontrunners in platform work given the contact between social partners, workers and the platforms. Platform workers in France in transport and delivery sectors even established unions, making it one of the first of its kind in Europe. Despite its smaller size compared to bigger counterparts such as France, Germany and Spain, Belgium has also put in place important regulatory framework (particularly on the fiscal side) when it comes to platform economy. The platform economy is also expanding in Eastern Europe (e.g. Hungary, Slovakia), but social dialogue is rather limited at this stage, yet traditional actors start looking for ways to represent platform workers and employers in social dialogue.

All in all, social dialogue in the platform economy appears to happen mainly at the sectoral level across countries in Europe. It also appears that platform economy presents both new opportunities for social partners to involve platform workers in social dialogue, but given the nature of the platform work, many challenges such as raising awareness in a diverse work setting, incentivising workers to join unions in a fast changing world of work and so on, still lie ahead.

Workshop: Workers‘ participation at plant level – a European and global perspective

Organiser: Ludger Pries, Ruhr University Bochum

General theme

Most people in the world spend the greater part of their life at their workplace. Globalization brings employees and workers from all over the world closer together—through direct value chains or indirect competition. Considering the very different regions of the world of labor, there are great varieties of labor regulation and labor conditions. Therefore, it becomes increas-ingly important to develop an overview of the extent and mechanisms of workers’ participation at plant level. It is crucial to understand and analyze the conditions under which people around the world are able to participate in the day-to-day working process and strategic decision mak-ing of the companies that employ them. This is still a neglected topic in the area of industrial and labor relations that requires further research, especially from a global perspective. The ses-sion will be based on a comprehensive recent publication on the topic.

The session will focus on the analysis of the mechanisms and practice of workers’ participation in the definition, control and enforcement of their working and employment conditions as well as their participation in work-related and company-strategic decisions. It aims at comparing different formal regulations and practices of workers’ participation at the workplace level in a carefully chosen selection of country case studies, first at the European level and second at the international level. Some guiding questions are: Does workers’ participation hinder manage-ment flexibility and introduce rigidity in times of increasing needs of companies to cope with more volatile and changing economic environments? Or is workers’ participation not only an indispensable precondition for democracy in society but also a way of facilitating workers’ inte-gration, motivation and participation in production? Is legally regulated workers’ participation as standing in stark opposition to any direct, individual and practical participation in work pro-cesses? Or should strategies and mechanisms like ‘Innovative Human Resource Management Strategies’ not be seen as contradictory to formal ways of workers’ participation and collective representation at plant level? Is workers’ participation and collective representation by unions a contradiction to direct democracy and participation of individuals at the workplace? Or are mechanisms of collective representation by unions and by alternative mechanisms of direct and indirect participation at the workplace, plant and company levels not mutually exclusive but reinforcing? Are the specific cultural contexts and institutional traditions of workers’ participa-tion in the EU converging or diverging? What are the main functions of workers’ participation at plant level (e.g. channelling inter- and intra-group conflicts in the working area; giving workers a voice and especially protect weaker groups in a given plant; stabilizing the development of es-tablishments and companies, triggering long-term perspectives; increasing motivation and commitment of workers at the workplace level; harmonizing the conditions of competition by controlling the compliance of legal, legitimate, collective bargaining and tacit norms; controlling and delimiting economic power; combining economic efficiency with democracy in economic life).

Papers to be presented

Workers’ participation: Concepts and evidence for Europe

Thomas Haipeter, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen

Mondragon: Cooperatives in global capitalism

Joseba Azkarraga, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU)
George Cheney, University of Colorado

Workers’ participation in Czechia and Slovakia

Jan Drahokoupil, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)
Marta Kahancová, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)

Workers‘ participation at plant level: France

Udo Rehfeldt, IRES

Workers’ participation at plant level: The case of Italy

Volker Telljohann, IRES Emilia-Romagna

Workers’ participation in Spain

Holm-Detlev Köhler, University of Oviedo

Workers’ participation at plant level in a global comparative perspective

Ludger Pries, Ruhr University Bochum

The growing role of legislative solutions to the regulation of working conditions

The case of Czechia and Slovakia

Marta Kahancová, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)
Monika Martišková, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)
Mária Sedláková, Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI)

Recent evidence from Czechia and Slovakia, but also other CEE countries, demonstrates that trade unions, with support of, or even joint effort with employers, increasingly prefer legislative solutions to improve working conditions. Through legislation, social partners have managed to introduce significant improvements, i.e. in relation to precarious forms of work including temporary contracts and agency work.

In this paper we examine why legislative solutions are gaining ground in CEE countries that have established traditions of collective bargaining and with fair levels of unionization. In other words, we raise a question why do unions (and employers) increasingly reach out for legislative solutions even if they have other channels of influence at their disposal, including collective bargaining.

In addition, we question the effects of such legislative solutions on (a) the quality of working conditions; (b) on the organizational stability, membership and reputation of trade unions; and (c) on the established industrial relations structures. In particular, we examine to what extent such legislative solutions have weakened or strengthened collective bargaining. The question we aim to answer is whether legislative solutions are crowding out the institution of collective bargaining, or whether they have the opposite effect: does a more detailed regulation generally increase the benchmark for bargaining outcomes and thereby facilitates more ambitious goals for future bargaining rounds?

To examine these questions, we draw on an analytical framework on innovative trade union practices elaborated in the introductory paper. Unions’ legislative efforts are framed as innovative, because only in the last 5-8 years unions openly push for legislative solutions while previously they attempted to concentrate their capacities both on bargaining and political lobbying. At the same time, in the past 5-8 years unions succeeded in significant improvements related to agency work, especially in Slovakia, through legislative efforts.

We address the above questions by examining temporary agency work (TAW) and healthcare – two sectors that witnessed substantial regulatory changes in the past five years both in Czechia and Slovakia. Evidence from other CEE countries is incorporated to underline the main argument.

The TAW sector in Czechia and Slovakia, previously unorganized, saw an important change, first, in trade unions’ willingness to represent agency workers even without direct impact on membership growth; and second, in employers’ willingness to regulate the highly liberal market of temporary agencies and working conditions of agency workers. In result, unions launched cooperation with employers and laid the foundations of sectoral bargaining. However, later these efforts vanished as both parties successfully sought legislative influence. A supporting political environment helped to facilitate this goal, where unions benefitted from sufficient political support. It is questionable whether the same goals would have been reached in more hostile conditions, e.g., with a government less supportive of trade unions.

In contrast, healthcare is a well-organized sector in both Czechia and Slovakia and has benefitted from established bargaining structures at company (both countries) and sector level (Slovakia). The dissatisfaction of some occupational groups, most notably doctors and nurses, with lengthy collective bargaining, often involving dispute settlement bodies, motivated them to push for legislative solutions on wage regulations. This brought a quick success in legislatively anchored wage rises for doctors in Slovakia. In both countries, doctors’ trade unions succeeded with their campaign for better working conditions without relying on the established bargaining channels. The success of doctors’ unions was followed by nurses’ union in Slovakia, but nurses were not as powerful and their legislative effort of wage regulation was successful only until the Constitutional court yielded the legislation unconstitutional. Recently all healthcare unions fought for a legal regulation of wages of all healthcare workers. While the nurses’ unions are not fully satisfied with the outcome, in general all unions favour the legislative solution to lengthy collective bargaining over wages.

The paper will elaborate the argument that legislative solutions are gaining ground because the costs of bargaining are increasing while trust in compliance is decreasing. In other words, unions find bargaining lengthy and increasingly difficult and are afraid of lack of compliance by employers. In addition, unions (and employers, too) are convinced that ‘only legislative stipulations are powerful enough to yield an improvement in working conditions. Law enforcement is higher than enforcement of collective agreements.

What are the implications of these findings for the institution of collective bargaining? While in the case of TAW, we find that legislative solutions are complementary to collective bargaining, evidence from healthcare suggests that legislative solutions are crowding out the long-established bargaining institutions and leave a significant part of healthcare workers without bargaining coverage.

Subscribe to RSS - Marta Kahancová