Conference Agenda

RN17_06b: Local, Sectoral, National, and European Labour Market Institutions and Processes in Flux
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Barbara Bechter, Durham University
Location: UP.1.219
University of Manchester Building: University Place, First Floor Oxford Road


Index of Organisational (Un)friendly Flexibility in Five European Countries: Embeddedness of Organisational Practices in Economic and Institutional Environment

Miroljub Ignjatović, Aleksandra Kanjuo Mrčela

University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Flexibilisation of employment and work practices have been one of the main features of global economic framework and “one of the hallmarks of modern organisations” (Brewster and Larsen, 2000:125) for several decades. Although universally present, the scope and forms of flexibility differ in different types of organisations and in economies that follow different economic models. Furthermore, the combination of different forms of flexible employment and work affects the quality of work and frequently increases the incidence of precarious work (Kalleberg 2009). In this article we will analyse data collected in big companies (in the 2015 CRANET –international survey of HRM policies and practices) in five geographically close European countries (Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia) that have been in different ways politically and economically connected. Data show that ratio of employees’ friendly and unfriendly forms of flexibility (Index of Organisational (Un)friendly Flexibility) differ in these countries considerably. Our analysis will reflect upon that organisational data using data base on living and working conditions in selected five countries provided by the European Foundation for the improvement of Living and Working conditions (Eurofound). This qualitative analysis will show what (set of) features of economic and institutional framework could explain variation in organisational practices. Results of the analysis that is based on two large comparative data bases could feed the discussion on flexibility that will bridge the gap between two streams of literature: human resource management on the one side and industrial relation/economic sociology/of work on the other side.

Labour Flexibility in the Swedish Building Sector

Rasmus Ahlstrand

Lund University, Sweden

Recent changes in the way labour is organised in the Swedish building sector are driven by demands for flexible and innovative labour market solutions from contractors and subcontractors, resulting in increased outsourcing. This paper identifies parallel systems of outsourcing and other forms of organising labour flexibility. A centralised system is identified in which contractors make use of employment agencies to hire workers mainly as a complement to a core base of their own labour force. This system aspires to follow the Swedish model of industrial relations and collective agreements. Other systems are characterised by de-centralisation, where subcontractors are contracted and responsible for hiring workers and completing specific tasks. This option limits the contractors’ own labour force to a minimum. Based on qualitative interviews and observations from three project sites, the empirical findings suggest that employment agencies’ possibilities to expand in the building sector, and to organise labour according to the centralised system, are limited. Rather, de-centralised systems are pre-dominantly used. It is also suggested that through measures of subcontracting, there is a social acceptance and normalisation of employments not covered by collective agreements, driving institutional change in the Swedish building sector. The result is a fragmented labour market, with groups of workers – self-employed, sub-contracted, and migrant workers – working alongside each other on the same project site, on different forms of employment, and with different employers. The variety of actors involved in the production process is also clouding social responsibilities, shifting risks towards the employees.

The Fluid Nature of Recruitment and Selection Criteria in Skilled Occupations

Gerbrand Tholen

City, University of London, United Kingdom

The paper examines to what extent employers’ requirements are subject to negotiation when they evaluate job candidates. It draws on a wider study on the recruitment and selection process within different fields. The study comprises of fifty semi-structured interviews with external professional recruit consultants in engineering, public sector, marketing, finance and professional services. Recruitment consultants have been chosen, as opposed to employers, because of their wide experience in these fields and the reduced likelihood of desirability bias that some have associated with how employers share their views on their own practices (Pager and Quillian, 2005). Recruiters were all based in London and had various levels of experience.

The findings show that technical criteria often not neatly defined. The employers that consultants deal with do not necessarily know what they want and what they need. The criteria and requirements for R&S can be highly malleable, negotiated and constructed over time by consultants, HR and hiring managers as well as the pool of applicants. Therefore the uncertainty and lack of reliable information often attached to evaluating candidates can also be applied variably to the demands of employers. The social negotiation around job requirements and specifications profoundly compromises the mainstream view of R&C and invites new sociological theorisation of the how jobs are allocated in contemporary skilled labour markets.

Pager, D., & Quillian, L. (2005). Walking the Talk? What Employers Say Versus What They Do. American Sociological Review, 70(3), 355–380.

Collective Actors’ Strategies for Wages at the Bottom End of the Wage Scale

Irene Dingeldey

University of Bremen, Germany, Institute Labour and Economy

Globalisation and the liberalisation of labour regulations have contributed to a rise in wage inequality and to an increase in low-paid work in industrialised countries. Minimum wages or mandatory extensions of collective agreements, among other strategies, can have moderating effects on these developments. Thus, it is not surprising that institutional settings, and more specifically the inclusiveness of wage-setting institutions, are the focus of many studies. However, recent research suggests that the segmentation of industrial relations and labour markets at the sectoral level cannot be explained by institutional accounts alone. Against this background, this study takes an actor-centred approach in combination with power resource theory to explain which strategies were used by collective actors to influence wages at the bottom end of the wage distribution and whether these strategies differ across sectors or countries. The study compares three countries – Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria – and three sectors – the metal industry, commercial cleaning, and retail – and roughly covers the period between the mid-2000s and today. Based on 40 semi-structured interviews with experts and professionals, we find that sector characteristics have a more profound influence on actors’ strategies than national institutions. Hence, we find greater similarities between actors’ wage-setting strategies across countries than within countries. Employers use, among others, indirect strategies such as exploiting institutional loopholes, while trade unions counter by mobilising public support.