Catherine Vincent, IRES
Kevin Guillas-Cavan, IRES
Multi-employer bargaining has been under pressure in recent years from the dual impact of the economic crisis and government interventions in areas traditionally within the remit of social partners’ autonomy (Marginson, 2014). Such pressure has impacted the structure of collective bargaining system and its outcome. The space for decentralised bargaining has increased and the degree of coordination of different levels of collective bargaining has weakened (Pedersini, Leonardi, 2018).
In France, until the last years, industry-level bargaining remained the main pillar of the industrial relations system, even if the strength and spread of collective bargaining have never relied on the existence of strong and encompassing bargaining parties, but on support from the state, particularly in the form of extension procedures and through the statutory minimum wage. In the past two decades, however, employers have chosen to privilege company-level bargaining to weaken the constraints imposed by legislation or by sectoral bargaining, but industry has remained an important level for determining employment and working conditions.
Since the 2008 crisis, France had to face similar economic challenges as many others European countries: sharp falls in employment and wage cuts or freezes. Its industrial relations regime has also come under growing pressure from European institutions to decentralize collective bargaining. This has opened the way to reforms based on government unilateralism which aim at increasing and relaxing the possibility for a company-level agreement to derogate to the industry-level ones. Most notably, the 2016 and 2017 reforms of labour market regulation and industrial relations conferred more autonomy on company bargaining and introduced a reversal of the norm hierarchy, by extending the issues for which priority is given to company-level agreements.
This overhaul of collective bargaining will certainly hasten the decline of the regulatory heft of industry agreements but not necessarily in the same way depending on the sectors. The existence of divergent practices between bargaining sectors is not new: many researches had highlighted that regulatory capacity differs according to industry (Bareau & Brochard, 2003; Castel et al., 2014; Rehfeldt & Vincent, 2018). In some industries, sectoral agreements are still central and create convergence of employment conditions in all companies whereas in most areas, particularly in the metal industry, employers’ federations sought to negotiate standards that preserve some leeway in large companies.
Our communication questions the room left for sector-level collective bargaining under the strain of the new forms of employment relations regulation: is the trodden path of sector-level bargaining now replaced by enterprise level? More particularly, we focus on the coordination between sector and enterprise as bargaining levels and its evolution . Is there disorganized and decentralized collective bargaining in all the sectors of activity? Do old sectoral differences persist or do new typologies emerge?
Regarding the decentralization and the ‘reversal of the norm hierarchy’, a part of the literature assumes the idea of a substitution of the company-level agreements to the ones occurring at the industry-level (Freyssinet, 2017). Recent works hint that, in a number of cases, there could still be complementarity between both levels (Gantois & France, 2016; Lemière & Denimal, 2016). Based on the first results of a study using the workplace survey REPONSE, this communication aims at presenting a typology of the different forms of articulation between industry and company-level agreement: does the company-level bargaining refer to the industry-level agreements, and if so, do company agreements precise, reinforce or derogate from the sectoral ones? In other words, this communication will present some insights in the often-used notion of articulation and try to enlighten the determining factors of the different modes of articulation (sector, company size, economic result, structure and density of the industrial relation in the company, etc.).
Our communication is based on research on the evolution of the French collective bargaining system carried out as part of two European projects on the coordination and decentralisation of collective bargaining, financed by the European Commission, and the first preliminary results of a research financed by the French Ministry of Labour on the articulation between industry and company-level bargaining.
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- Castel N., Delahaie N. and Petit H. (2014) “Diversity of compensation policies and wage collective bargaining in France”, in Rodriguez Fernandez M. L. and Vincent C. (eds), Dinámicas de la negociación collectiva en Europa, Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales, 32 (2), 311-336.
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- Marginson P. (2014), “Coordinated bargaining in Europe: from incremental corrosion to frontal assault?”, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 21 (2), 97-114.
- Rehfeldt U., Vincent C. (2018) “The decentralization of collective bargaining in France: an escalating process”, in Leonardo S. and Pedersini R. (eds) Multi-employer Bargaining under Pressure. Decentralization Trends in Five European Countries, Bruxelles, ETUI, 151-184.