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30 January 2020

Collective bargaining still very relevant in a changing world of work

Does collective bargaining still matter and, if so, what role can it play, together with workers’ voice, in a rapidly changing world of work? These are the main questions that the recently published OECD report on collective bargaining attempts to answer.

The report, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the functioning of collective bargaining systems and workers’ voice arrangements across OECD countries, was presented at an ETUI monthly forum on 16 December, one month after its publication.

Sandrine Cazes and Chloé Touzet, two of the report’s authors, gave a detailed review of the functioning of collective bargaining systems and how they relate to labour market performance. They also highlighted how the report analyses not only the role of collective bargaining institutions for employment, wages and labour market inclusiveness, but also for job quality. Furthermore, it considers how collective bargaining can be mobilised to address emerging challenges in the labour market and identifies the type of government intervention that may be required to do this. “If set up in the right way, collective bargaining can enhance job quality and foster inclusive labour markets,” underlined Sandine Cazes. She also added that it can ease transitions, help to identify emerging issues such as work-life balance and working time, fine-tune solutions, shape the definitions of new rights, and complement labour market security and adaptability.

Jörg Tagger, Head of the Social Dialogue Unit at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission, said that the Commission welcomes this timely report and will take it into consideration in the new policies which are now taking shape.

Esther Lynch, the ETUC Deputy General Secretary responsible for collective bargaining, also expressed her appreciation of the report but insisted on the difference that needs to be made between collective bargaining and workers’ voice. She also stressed the importance of the right to strike as “the muscle” of collective bargaining, stating that “otherwise there is just a discussion”. More attention should also be paid to the democratisation of workplaces.

Plamen Dimitrov, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria, said that eastern Europe is the “weakest link” with regard to collective bargaining coverage, not only because of lower union density but also because of the legal framework. Trade unions in the region are in favour of a framework directive on minimum wages. Inga Ruginienė, President of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation, agreed with Dimitrov’s comments, saying that without such a directive, “employers always say no and, with the government in between the social partners, the prime minister ends up deciding what the minimum wage will be.” Dimitrov also added that we should reconsider the definition of a worker: we need to include the new types of workers and ensure that they are covered by collective bargaining.

Torsten Müller, senior researcher at the ETUI working on collective bargaining, congratulated the OECD for this report. He commented that the authors “went beyond the wage issue into non-monetary aspects” and produced very nuanced policy recommendations. However, according to Müller the role of the state is not emphasised enough and the role of structural reforms has not been integrated into the analysis. He also underlined the fact that social dialogue is not collective bargaining, and the two should not be confused.


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