2. juli 2010

Safety nets or straight jackets - the regulatory frameworks on working time in the Danish, German and American metal industries

Kongresartikel af Anna Ilsøe

In recent years, flexible working hours have offered a platform for new compromises between employers and employees at the workplace. Employers have pushed for a decentralisation of collective bargaining of working hours to increase local competitiveness, whereas employees have called for a more flexible scheduling of hours to balance their work and family life. However, important challenges to meet the needs and wishes of employees with regards to flexible working hours still remain. The regulatory frameworks on working hours across the Western world offer different rooms for manoeuvre regarding collective bargaining of flexible hours at company level. In some countries national legislation and/or sector-level agreements on working hours are highly specific and leave little room for company level negotiations. This can impose a ‘straightjacket' to employees' wishes of working time flexibility. In other countries, the regulation of working hours leaves more room for negotiating flexible working hours at company level. On one hand, this can facilitate family-friendly working hours. On the other hand, diversity among employees can make it difficult to cover the needs and wishes of all employees when closing a company-level agreement on flexible working hours. Some employees may be unable to offer the requested flexibility outlined in the local agreement and would therefore be better off relying on a more specified regulation at national/sector level. In this case the sector-level agreement would function as a ‘safety net'.

This paper addresses the question whether regulatory frameworks on working hours at national/sector level impose straight jackets or offer safety nets to employees' wishes of working time flexibility. It compares the regulation of flexible working hours (legislation and collective agreements) in the metal industries of Denmark, Germany and the US, where different frameworks for negotiating flexible working hours at company level can be observed. The metal industry has been trend setting for collective bargaining in all three countries, however, with very different results.

Artikel til IIRA Regional Congress, 28. juni-1. juli 2010, København.