BARSORI (BARgaining for SOcial RIghts)

Bargaining for social rights: reducing precariousness and labour market segmentation through collective bargaining and social dialogue

Project financed by the European Commission (Agreement Ref. VS/2010/0811)

One of the key concerns related to the post-industrial labour markets of EU countries is the tendency towards increased levels of precarious work, accompanied by processes of segmentation and exclusion. Growing proportions of the active population do not correspond to the traditional industrial type of employment with full-time open-ended contracts, access to social security arrangements and represented by trade unions. Increasingly the labour market is fragmented, with employment statuses like fixed term contracts, part-time contracts, temporary agency workers, dependent self-employment and informal work becoming increasingly important. Depending on the specific national situation, the individuals in such non-standard jobs are often in disadvantage where employment and social rights are concerned, both from a legal point of view (labour and social security legislation) and from the perspective of other forms of labour market regulation (collective agreements, company policies, employment policy). The disadvantages of precarious employment may include low pay, high levels of insecurity, working poverty, limited access to mortgages and loans, limited access to training and education, career possibilities, low influence on working conditions and processes, low self-esteem, etc. They often accumulate among specific social groups like the young, migrants or women. It is these groups that are over-represented among the precariously employed.

Reducing precariousness and segmentation and improving the social rights of precarious workers has become a priority across Europe. At EU level this is manifested most clearly by the prominent role of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, including a series of social rights. Also, a number of Directives (e.g. those on pert-time and fixed-term employment) aim to increase the social rights of the employed, while the European Employment Strategy urges member states to complement the increasing flexibility in the labour market with decent social security and stable employment relationships. At the same time, it is the economic character of the European integration process and its emphasis on marketization, privatization and internationali¬zation that to an important extent drives the growth of precarious employment. Also at national level a drive towards flexible employment relationships has been ongoing for decades while this has not to a similar extent been compensated for by providing flexible workers with new securities. Indeed, as indicated above, the concerns over precarious work have not yet translated in a general decline of such employment.

Most previous research on precarious work has focused on the analysis of labour market structures, vulnerable groups, different dimensions of precariousness and state policies that increase or decrease levels of precariousness. The main focus of the present project is on the contribution that trade unions can make to the reduction of precarious employment. The project presents studies on trade union experiences in seven EU countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the UK. It started from three main objectives: (i) to analyse the challenges trade unions face in improving the social rights of precarious workers; (ii) to provide insight in the experiences of unions with improving the social rights of precarious workers and describe in detail a series of positive or instructive examples of such activities; and (iii) to discuss these finding with the European trade union movement and to disseminate the findings and lessons to trade unions around the EU to promote transnational learning and improve the capacity of trade unions to reduce precarious employment.

For the seven countries it presents country studies that present the findings of the research in each country. These reports outline the development of precarious employment in the respective country, the development of social rights, the general trade union strategies towards precarious employment. They also present a number of detailed examples of trade union strategies towards specific types of precarious employment. The main points of the country studies are presented in a comparative report. The project also presents policy papers that provide the results of the research in summarised form, with a focus on the policy dimensions of the issue. The project findings were discussed with national actors and at a European seminar in Brussels on 22 November 2011 with union representatives from around Europe, members of the European Commission, employers’ representatives and others.

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