Diverging motives and tensions when standing for employee representative elections
Maarten Hermans, HIVA, KU Leuven
In the four-annual Belgian social elections 1.7 million employees elect approximately 65.000 of their colleagues in their enterprise or organization to a formal position as employee representative. Through their role and position in Work Councils, Committee’s for Health and Safety, and the union delegation, these representatives are the primary anchor point of the Belgian social dialogue-system at the company-level.
This position means that they are also increasingly the focus of rising expectations in the context of discussions on union renewal and strategy. Union membership drives, the need for recruiting representatives in younger segments of the workforce, shifting to an organizing model, etc., generally increase the demands on company-level union representatives. This trend coincides with decentralization tendencies in collective bargaining, which similarly shifts roles and expectations to a lower level. Both trends raise the question what motivates or discourages current employee representatives to take up company-level union roles, and if this is compatible with changing union strategies.
However, in the industrial relations literature on the sector-oriented and centralized Belgian social dialogue-system, there is relatively little attention to individual-level attitudes, motivations and tensions when standing for employee representative elections. In this descriptive paper we aim to narrow this gap by analyzing both self-reported individual attitudes and motivations, as well as organizational and sectoral characteristics that discourage employees from submitting their candidacy, such as anti-union employer behavior.
We do so by drawing on a unique longitudinal four wave survey (2014-2016) of candidate- and elected representatives, with waves bridging the social elections of 2016. This longitudinal dataset is linked with administrative data on individual characteristics, and matched with both enterprise characteristics and a longitudinal dataset of individual candidate and enterprise-level social election outcomes (1995-2016).
Keywords: social elections; employee representation; union renewal; shop stewards.