P2 – Young Scholars

5 September 2019, 17:30–18:45
Lecture hall 3D

Chair: Martin Behrens, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), Hans-Böckler-Foundation

  • Anna Mori, University of Milan
  • Ruth Reaney, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  • Genevieve Coderre-Lapalme, University of Birmingham
  • Lisa Basten, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)


Plenary 2: Young Scholars

5. September 2019, 17:30–18:45
Venue: Heinrich Heine University (HHU) Düsseldorf Building 23.01, Lecture Hall 3D


Functional equivalence of employment regimes under market pressure

Out-sourcing of public services in Italy and Denmark

Anna Mori 

Anna Mori is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Social and Political Science, University of Milan. Fields of study: comparative employment relations, particularly within the public sector, and trade union strategies.

» Abstract of the presentation

Beyond ideology

Comparing confrontational union responses to restructuring in France
Ruth Reaney

Ruth Reaney is an LSE Fellow in Employment Relations and Human Resource Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Fields of study:  employment relations, trade unions, identity, institutional change.

Genevieve Coderre-LaPalme

Genevieve Coderre-LaPalme is a lecturer in employment relations at the Birmingham Business School

» Abstract of the presentation

Collectivity besides the company

Workers’ representation in the German film and television sector

Lisa Basten

Lisa Basten is a PhD candidate at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). Fields of study: Project based work, creative industries, workers’ participation

» Abstract of the presentation


Martin Behrens, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), Hans Böckler Foundation


Functional equivalence of employment regimes under market pressure

Out-sourcing of public services in Italy and Denmark

Anna Mori, University of Milan

The article investigates how far two inclusive regimes of employment relations in the public sector, as the Italian and the Danish ones, turn to be functionally equivalent in their labour-management collaboration under market pressure in the outsourcing of public services.

The prominent ping-ponging debate about convergence or enduring differences in national models of public administration and public sector employment relations seems to have reached a shared position. Scholars agree upon the resilience of country-specific institutional configurations in coping with exogenous pressures and endogenous shocks (Bach and Bordogna 2016). The ensuing question can then involve the functional equivalence of different models sharing common structural characteristics, under analogous pressures. To what extent similar national institutional configurations are able to pursue analogous objectives in terms of distributive outcomes of market risks in employment relations under market pressure? It is of particular interest the investigation of the social solidarity capability of inclusive systems of industrial relations, against a backdrop featured by the interplay between the austerity agenda in the aftermath of the financial crisis and swelling market-type practices in public sector across Europe.

Empirically, the article illustrates the argument with an examination of Italy and Denmark, chosen as “most similar countries” characterised by centralised sector agreements, high collective bargaining coverage, protective and inclusive labour institutions and strong trade unions with a high membership rate and an institutionalised role in collective bargaining. These rooted resemblances provide a privileged test case to investigate how far these institutions perform in the same way in sheltering employment and working conditions from detrimental transformations triggered by the outsourcing processes. Furthermore, responding to the scholarly call for a an integrated approach between institutions and actors, the article looks not just at how labour market institutions and regulatory frameworks accommodate and shape market dynamics, but also at how these institutions shape room for manoeuvre that the actors can utilise and exploit (Meardi et al., 2016).

Functional equivalence is operationalised as degree of resemblance in market risks distribution. Such variable displays three patterns according to the pre-existing power relations between the social actors and the institutional framework within which these dynamics occur (Breen, 1997). The risks can be contained (hedging of risks), counterbalancing the growing exposure to the market for workers with interventions of (quasi-) general reciprocity within companies and social protection institutions. Where reciprocity is lacking, mechanisms for transferring risks to workers (transferring of risk) are triggered as a result of the greater discretion acquired by the employer in work relations. The transfer of (part of) risks through mechanisms of asymmetrical and contingent engagement of employers in labour relations would lead to greater responsibility for workers, obliging them to self-provide for individual protection against market risks. In the third case we assist to a process of re-commodification of work (re-commodification), through the overall weakening, if not the dismantling, of the mechanisms and devices of job protection.

Evidence is based on four in-depth case studies of outsourcing processes in local government and healthcare sector across the two countries, including 64 semi-structured interviews (38 in Italy and 26 in Denmark) carried out in 2013-16 with key-informants, complemented by documentary analysis of secondary sources, relevant legislation and national collective agreements. The comparative analysis looks at the transformations of working conditions following outsourcing of public services and at the unions strategical responses to such processes.

The analysis endorses a substantial degree of functional equivalence between the two employment relations systems. Italy and Denmark, though diverse mechanisms, ensure stable and protected terms and conditions of employment for the whole public personnel employed in outsourced services. Accordingly, both collaborative institutional frameworks of employment relations in the public sector can be reliably associated with the “hedging of risk” model proposed by Breen (1997). However the full functional equivalence resulted in the public employment does not apply if we expand the consideration to the repercussions of such market pressures on the intertwined private sector workforce employed in contracted services. If the “hedging of risks” pattern persists in Denmark, on the contrary in Italy market risks are heavily discharged upon private sector workers, who do not enjoy the same protections ensured to public employees, showing instead a “transfer of risks” pattern.

The interrelated effect of institution-related and agency-based factors contribute in explaining the non-perfect juxtaposition of the two inclusive models in shielding terms and conditions of employment from market forces. National institutional arrangements play a pivotal role in mediating the repercussions triggered by market-driven pressures on labour (Jaehrling, 2015), reconciling transformative strain with the peculiar domestic labour market configuration. Moreover trade unions’ organisational responses to outsourcing processes turned to be antipodal. Italian unions followed a concessionary and expelling strategy, in which they concentrate rather exclusively on the core workforce in standard employment relations in the public sector. Conversely trade unions in Denmark opted for integrative strategies in which workers representatives attempt to integrate in their structures the contracted workforce across the whole network of subcontracting.

To conclude, the Danish system, comprising the institutional context and actors’ agency, operates as a market-embedding tool (Jaehrling, 2015), where the market is integrated into the whole labour market through solidaristic forms of coordination, while the Italian case develops along a segmentalist social solidarity pattern (Thelen, 2004).

Beyond ideology

Comparing confrontational union responses to restructuring in France

Ruth Reaney, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Genevieve Coderre-Lapalme, University of Birmingham

For several decades, workplace restructuring has been a central feature of a shift towards market-driven employment relations in both the public and private sectors in France (Beaujolin-Bellet and Schmidt 2012). Already grappling with the challenges associated with the country’s state-driven thrust towards decentralised collective bargaining, French trade unions now face private sector employers’ adoption of tactics such as vertical disintegration, outsourcing and offshoring to improve efficiency and cut costs (Amable and Hancké 2001). In this context, private sector trade unions have found difficulties in organising and representing an increasingly fragmented workforce, particularly in circumstances where offshoring is a potential threat. Meanwhile, public administration has moved towards private sector-style management through ‘New Public Management’ mechanisms such as privatisation, marketisation and decentralisation. With French trade unionism having been described as “almost exclusively a public sector phenomenon” (Parsons 2005: 62), the privatisation of public services represents a major threat for the country’s unions.

Within this challenging environment, local unions have responded to workplace restructuring in various ways. Whilst ‘cooperative’ strategies such as concession bargaining and the negotiation of social plans are common responses to this type of restructuring, occasionally unions employ more ‘confrontational’ strategies such as political mobilisation to prompt negotiations about alternative plans (Pulignano and Stewart 2013; Marginson and Meardi 2009; Foster and Scott 1998; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Greer et al 2013). Under what conditions do unions adopt a confrontational approach? In the literature, local unions’ strategic choices have been attributed to a number of internal and external factors (Pulignano and Stewart 2013). External circumstances including social and economic change, the institutional environment, and employer strategies may help or hinder unions in their actions (Frege and Kelly 2003; Jalette and Hebdon 2012; Martinez-Lucio and Stuart 2005). Sectoral and local contexts have also been observed as important factors in shaping union activity (Bechter et al 2012). Given the shortcomings of such external factors in explaining inter- and intra- union variation in action, research highlights the importance of internal characteristics in influencing unions’ strategic choices. While internal and external power resources (Levesque and Murray 2005; Murray et al 2010) help shape the opportunities and threats which unions see in their environment, internal ideology and identity are also considered to be key factors in shaping and sustaining union strategy (Bacon and Blyton 2004; Levesque and Murray 2010; Hodder and Edwards 2015; Hyman 2001).

In examining local unions’ choices to engage confrontational responses to restructuring, this paper compares case studies of ‘critical restructuring incidents’ in two of the country’s most unionised sectors, public healthcare and automobile manufacturing. In doing so, it extends understanding of unions’ tactical choices in responding to restructuring in both public and private sector contexts, thereby offering insight into the extent to which external factors shape trade union strategic choice. Furthermore, the cases offer empirical insight into local union identity within “one of the most divided union movements in Europe” (Connolly, 2010:3). A multi-method approach was used, drawing on semi-structured interviews with key informants and union documentation as evidence.

Preliminary findings from the study indicate that inter- and intra-union variation across and within the sectoral cases can be attributed to a multitude of internal and external factors influencing unions’ strategic choices. However, there are several elements that appeared to be most conducive to confrontational union response: local union identity, employer approach to restructuring, and the substantive content of the restructuring plan. Whereas some unions in the cases had confrontational responses because this forms part of their usual repertoire of action and general union identity, others opted for a confrontational response for other reasons. Unions which are generally considered in the literature to be “non-militant” engaged in confrontational action in instances where it was deemed the best way to protect their legitimacy and power within the organisation. In line with Bacon and Blyton’s (2004) propositions, unions were also prone to engage in confrontational action against restructuring in cases where the employer was seen not to ‘play fair’ in negotiations. However, the form and content of planned restructuring efforts were also important in eliciting oppositional responses. Moreover, unions appeared to be compelled to respond in such a way if proposed changes were especially unpopular (i.e. where restructuring would encroach significantly upon employees’ terms and conditions of employment) amongst members/employees. Again, unions appeared to adopt this position as a means of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of employees. Furthermore, intra-union variation in the cases indicates that local circumstances such as workforce preferences and inter-union competition appear to play a role in shaping the extent to which unions responded confrontationally. This was particularly visible in the automobile sector, where a pattern of militant one-upmanship emerged in circumstances where workforces appeared receptive to oppositional action.

Patterns within the case findings therefore suggest that unions’ responses to restructuring, although ostensibly similar, are motivated by various external and internal factors, demonstrating that union strategic choice is  determined neither by external factors nor professed union ideology. Thus, restructuring poses strategic dilemmas for unions, forcing them to navigate the process by balancing union identity with membership and workforce preferences.

Collectivity besides the company

Workers’ representation in the German film and television sector

Lisa Basten, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)

Work in creative industries has attracted increasing attention in recent years. Academic research on creative work has focused on four main areas: Firstly, the economic significance of creative industries (e.g. Bertschek et al., 2017), subjective claims to fulfilment (e.g. Basten, 2016), project-based work arrangements (e.g. Windeler & Sydow, 2001) and the high risks of precarity (e.g. Haak, 2008). All of them, it is argued, imply specific challenges to the work of organizations that (want to) represent the collective interests of project-based workers. They correspond to challenges faced by unions, employers’ organizations and social legislation as a whole. The “crisis of normalcy” leads to a “crisis of representation” (Mückenberger, 2016).

Past research on the representation of workers’ interests in creative sectors in Germany have focused on trade unions and attested them both immense problems in organizing creative workers (e.g. Kalkowski & Mickler, 2005) and innovative measures to still try (Mirschel, 2018). But despite the problems collective actors face in creative industries it remains questionable whether this is actually a problem of these workers’ solidarity or of the established structures and organizations of representation in Germany.

My case study in the German film and television industry reveals that there is a dynamic number of associations, initiatives and unions that represent the interests of filmmakers. My data rests on 20 semi-structured interviews with experts working in the organizations, participatory observation over a 3 year period and an online survey among over 60 organizations active in the film and television sector and neighbouring sectors. For conceptualizing my research I draw from the concept of institutional change, in particular the role of agency in “institutional work” (Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2010) and the role of strong or weak ties in organizational change (Granovetter, 1983).

My results show the importance of building networks across organizations in a fragmented landscape of collective representation – a phenomenon not yet filtered into the duality of social partnership – and suggest ‚network solidarity‘ as a concept to be explored. The interorganisational network representing creative work in the German film and television sector span professions and overcome national boundaries in European initiatives aiming at Brussels.

Unsurprisingly, network solidarity is not (yet) a story of success and is far from reaching the shaping power trade unions have in other industrial sectors. Hindering issues that can be distilled from my research are conflicts over status identity (e.g. the hybrid relation of employer and employee in creative projects), the temporal concentration of collective activity around specific issues (like “gender equality” or “copyright”) and the absence of a political and legal framework enabling networks rather than single organizations to speak up for workers’ rights.

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