Conference Agenda

RN17_07a: Trade Unions and Employers' Organizations
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Valeria Pulignano, KU Leuven
Location: UP.1.218
University of Manchester Building: University Place, First Floor Oxford Road


Employers’ Organizations And Their Policies And Discourses Since the 1970s – The Dutch Case

Saskia Boumans

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

We are witnessing a qualitative change of the system of industrial relations and collective bargaining in several European countries. The causes for this change are still debated, but a consensus seems to be emerging that the general direction is into a more neoliberal and less coordinated system. And even though the role of organised employers within this process is broadly recognised, we do not have much knowledge yet on their reasons, motivations and internal debates.

In this paper I present the Dutch case. Dutch industrial relations have been characterised as stable and robust for decades, with a high coverage of collective agreements based upon high employer density as an important feature. Since a couple of years though the practice of collective bargaining and the national social dialogue are under strain. Declining union membership, a shift of power between unions and employers, and changing union strategies are often mentioned as main causes. The strategies and interests of the three national employers' organizations are unknown, and therefore their role within the current changes as well. Are they pursuing less coordination, as often thought, and why (not)? How does this relate to the high coverage? What are their policy goals? In this paper I present the first findings from an analysis of policy documents on collective bargaining and the social dialogue of Dutch employers' organizations since the 70s. The aim of the paper is to gain an understanding of the goals, arguments and interests of organized employers, and it’s development over time.

Court Ban on Strike Action and Its Possible Consequences for Trade Unions

Katarzyna Rakowska

University of Warsaw, Poland

In my presentation I address the issue of institutional change – the shift of the right to strike from labour law to civil law – and its possible consequences for trade unions participation in collective bargaining process.

I use the concept of sources of bargaining power of trade unions as described by Erik O. Wright. Bargaining power is willingness and ability to strike. I also use the concept of capital fixes introduced by Harvey and further developed by Silver. Silver claims that capital is subjected to certain fixes in space, technology, product and finance and is not infinitely flexible. On the other hand, in order to fight various kinds of workers’ bargaining power, capital fixes (adjusts) itself in space, technology, product and finance. I introduce a new type of fix: institutional fix. I claim that capital answers to bargaining power of trade unions using legal framework fix by taking bargaining process to court.

My preliminary findings include ten companies with 12 civil court cases where the right to strike was disputed. First instance courts prohibited strike actions seven times, four times employers plea was dismissed, and one case ruling remains unknown. Bans on strike action had great impact on negotiation process between trade unions and employers, causing stoppage of ongoing strike action twice, four call-offs of scheduled strikes and leading four companies to dismissal of union leaders.

Firms Resistance to Unionism and its Determinants: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Patrick Nüß1,2

1Kiel University, Germany; 2Hans-Böckler-Foundation

Using a correspondence experiment we submit 5200 fictitious job applications to real vacancies for two years, the paper analyses firms resistance to unionism by revealing trade union membership in the hiring process. Due to the institutional structure of Germany as well as the available firm and labor market characteristics, the paper is able to link all potential mechanisms to the industrial relations literature on management opposition, organizing and labor disputes. Firms resistance against trade union members in Germany exists for all tested occupations and regions with an average decline in job invitations of up to 50%. Preliminary results provide evidence for union distaste related to the presence of a collective agreement, firm size and union density. This suggest, that union distaste is partly based on the threat of unions strike activity. However, the most powerful explanatory variable for union distaste is not current union density but the share of previous union members in a sector. This indicates union distaste as a proxy for management opposition has been an important driver for decreasing union density in Germany. The analysis will be extended by the direct effect of strike activity with the availability of the strike data in Summer 2019.

Public Service trade Unions and Employment Relations in a Context of Crisis. The Case of NHS Midwifery.

Cecile Guillaume1, Gill Kirton2

1University of Roehampton, United Kingdom; 2Queen Mary University of London

The research presented in this paper investigates the work, career and union experiences of midwives in the NHS, the largest employer of women in Europe and one of the most racially/ethnically diverse. The research utilises multiple methods, including 20 semi-structured interviews with RCM reps and paid-officers, 3 focus groups with RCM reps and a union reps survey that will be completed in April 2019.

The preliminary findings drawn from our qualitative data offer contrasting views on workplace unionism with some good examples of initiatives to revive local (dormant) branches, to encourage membership involvement and to encourage people to step forward for rep roles. Equally many reps expressed frustration regarding member passivity and servicing expectations. Midwives are often viewed as individualistic and lacking enthusiasm to support one another.

Getting involved with RCM involves high individual costs (burnout, stress, emotional) for professionals who are often working shifs and nights. However, our research also gathered examples of reps feeling valued by local managers – for their problem-solving role and role in mitigating complaints and staff dissatisfaction with new policies for example. Unsurprisingly, staffing levels were a major concern in terms of effects on midwives. Bullying and harassment – generally and in some cases particularly of BAME staff – are now seen as endemic in the NHS, especially hospitals and other larger workplaces. Representing individual members was the main concern and main activity for stewards. But, many gave examples of ways that they had (often successfully) attempted to collectivise issues brought to them by individuals. Many see their main satisfaction coming from representing individuals, fighting unfair treatment.