Track 3: Workers’ Voice and Industrial Democracy

Europe is the origin of a rich variety of different concepts of industrial and workplace democracy. For decades the incompatibility of these traditions was more an obstacle than a fertile ground for a strong European representation of workers’ voice. Meanwhile considerable progress has been made regarding workers’ participation in Europe as well as beyond. Yet democracy is threatened at different levels and from different sides, in particular by the rise of authoritarian political movements and new forms of racism, sexism, classism and religious fundamentalism that also affect workplace relations. At the same time new technologies lead to new challenges as well as opportunities for democratic participation. Against this background we want to discuss the future of democratic participation at local, national, European and international levels.

When universal HR perspectives give way to contextual issues

Lessons from developing economies

John Opute, London South Bank University

There is evidence across many developed economies (particularly in Europe) that there continues to be growing importance of collective bargaining but in different forms and different models. For example, there is a seemingly increasing development towards works council ‘batching’ in some European countries just like we seem to notice ‘collective begging’ tendencies rather than collective bargaining in many developing economies. Extending this narrative to developing economies, highlights the extent to which recent developments might improve employment relations.

Many developing economies lack ‘consistent democracy’ leading to several infrastructural and societal challenges in business management. Their controversial evolution towards viable democratic structures has a considerable consequence for the wider world. On the other hand, the promotion of collective bargaining has created a new contour in the process of trade union development, which if properly harnessed, will lead to business efficacy and generate the so much heralded wealth for sustaining these economies. The paper reveals that employees are not necessarily searching for freedom of association (which is traditionally pursued by trade unions) but for recognition, which comes from understanding their orientation. Therefore, they wish their minds and hearts to be won by their employers, which is beyond ‘filling their pockets’ and sometimes beyond the roles of trade unions and collective agreements. Additionally, there has been significant literature on employee voice but understanding employer voice provides even a better platform for effective workforce participation.

This paper contributes to this issue with empirical evidences from some organisations by examining the evolution of collective bargaining and the sustainability of existing collective bargaining mechanisms and the collective agreements derivable from this process. There are significant differences in the practice of collective bargaining in several developing economies because of the varying contextual issues, not limited to the economic and political developments but also alluding to the maturity of the actors in the employment relations intuitions. It is apparent that theoretical arguments differ on the future of workforce participation in developing economies therefore empirical studies are needed to provide greater clarity and more robust discussions. One way of obtaining an in-depth understanding of the problems is to focus on a country where collective bargaining institutions have changed greatly within a fleeting period and Nigeria provides a good example for such an investigation for distinct reasons.

This case study approach is based on the analysis of recent industrial relations development and evidences from 11 multinational/local companies in the formal labour sector. This is complemented by semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with a variety of HR practitioners and employees.

In conclusion, this paper analyses some aspects of the trajectory of collective bargaining evolution albeit focusing on examining appropriate criteria for adopting a collective bargaining strategy, which provides the opportunity for both the employers and workforce to be more pragmatic. Furthermore, it demonstrates that collective bargaining has specific country orientations, reflecting the socio-economic predispositions of each country, the cultural paradigms and the connectivity of these issues.

Key words: Nigeria, participation, collective bargaining, trade unions, culture, socio-economic and developing economies.

Labour-management partnership development and challenges in South Korea

Changwon Lee, Korea Labor Institute

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-67-Lee.pdf

Labor-management partnership (LMP) can be considered as labor-management cooperation in a broad sense, and traditionally is referred to as industrial relations laying emphasis on workers participation in a narrow sense).

The reinforcement of the labor-management partnership through the participation in management of employees and labor unions which at the same time asked the improvement of corporate management performances in response was closely connected to the introduction of high performance work system, so it was natural to connect partnership with the way of working in workplaces, the flexibility of organizations, labor-productivity, and the improvement of quality.

However, labor unions experience the weakening of traditional collective bargaining while managements acquire benefits of high-productivity, low-costs, and decreased conflict costs, etc. Although profit sharing increases, it also is accompanied by the intensification of labor control and decrease in job autonomy.

Korea's LMP is at a basic level for establishing communication and trust between labor and management. In the motivation for requesting support for the LMP program, the cases for communicating between labor and management are more important than the workplace innovation and productivity enhancement purposes, and also the projects are labor-management cooperation declaration, labor-management joint grievance settlement, and community service activities, etc.

In this paper, I would like to find a slight change in the recent trend compared to the past in Korea.

For example, KyungEun Industry, which was selected as the best company in the SME sector in the 2016 Labor-Management Partnership Competition, passed the crisis of closing down at the end of 2006, not only the workshops between labor and management but also the innovation of the field for productivity improvement, it has improved long-time working hours with the basic spirit of “people first than work” and introduced employee stock ownership scheme, while labor and management joined forces in balanced innovation systemizing the human resource development program.

For the recent cases of LMP development, trust building is important for the formation of the partnership in the first stage, and it is necessary to build a program through participation based on mutual trust in the second stage, and labor and management cooperation for an innovation program that integrates learning and labor is needed in the third stage.

This study will address the key characteristics of changing LMP cases in Korea with comparison of the past experiences in European countries and suggest future challenges they are facing.

Roots, reason and resistance

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.

The long and unfinished road to workers’ participation in France

Udo Rehfeldt, IRES

The paper will analyse the recent reforms in the French system of workers’ participation at workplace and company level in three fields. The first field is information and consultation. Here the rights of the works councils have further been strengthened on economic issues and extended towards strategic management decisions. Responding to demands by the employers’ organisations, existing workplace representation bodies have been merged and centralised. The second field is collective bargaining at the workplace and company level. Here the trade union delegates have conserved their monopoly for collective bargaining. The unions continue to coordinate the whole system of workers’ participation, as long they are present at the workplace level. Responding to employers’ demands, collective bargaining without unions is however facilitated and derogation in peius from sector level agreements permitted. The legislator’s intention is to further decentralize the whole system of collective bargaining. The third field is participation in economic decision making through board-level employee representation (BLER). Here France is in a paradoxical situation. It was the first European country to introduce BLER as soon as 1945, which remained long time limited to the public sector. Since 2013, BLER is mandatory also in the private sector, but with the highest thresholds, the lowest number of employee representatives per company compared to other BLER systems in Europe, as well as procedural restrictions unknown elsewhere. The obstacles for enhancing this form of participation are rooted in the French industrial relations culture, historically characterized by mistrust between employers and unions, and by hostility towards BLER within the employers’ organizations, but also within the trade unions. The actors’ positions have however begun to change, as one can observe in the ongoing debate on company law reform in order to enhance company sustainability.


  • Rehfeldt U. (2018), “Industrial Relations in France: From the underdevelopment of collective bargaining to the failure of neocorporatist concertation”, Employee Relations, n° special “Industrial Relations in the 21st century Europe”, Vol. 40, No. 4, February; pp. 617-633.
  • Rehfeldt U., Vincent C. (2018), “The decentralisation of collective bargaining in France: an escalating process”, in Leonardi S., Pedersini R. (eds.), Multi-employer Bargaining Under Pressure. Decentralisation trends in five European countries, Brussels: ETUI; pp. 151-184.
  • Rehfeldt U. (2019), “Workers’ participation at plant level: France”, in: Berger S., Pries L., Wannöfel M. (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Workers' Participation at Plant Level, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 323-342.


The relation between participation, influence and trust in employment relations at local level

Kristin Alsos, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
Sissel C. Trygstad, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

Employee participation and cooperation at company level play a pivotal role in the Norwegian labour market model. These rights are embedded both in statutory law and in national and industry level collective agreements.  In sum, these provide both individual and collective co-determination rights at company level. In general, the organized parts of the Norwegian labour marked are characterized by well-established channels for voice through union representatives, and a climate of co-operation and trust. It is believed that the model promotes efficiency and productiveness.

In a recent study (Alsos & Trygstad 2019) we identified a participation gap: 29 percent of local TU reps did not take part in formal or informal cooperation at local level, even though this is granted by collective agreement. In this paper we take a closer look at this group of TU reps, and compare them with those who do participate. We discuss how formal and informal participation affect the TU reps’ experienced influence over decisions related to the work place. Furthermore, is there a correlation between TU reps’ experienced influence and trust between the local industrial parties? Such correlation may be seen as a challenge to the Norwegian labour market model.

The analyses are based on a survey among TU reps at company level within several industries in the private sector; namely manufacturing, construction, hotels & restaurants and retail trade. We also conducted in-depth interviews among management and TU reps at company level in more than 30 companies of different size, and in the same industries as covered by the survey.


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