Lifting the floor rights of atypical workers – The role of social partners and sectoral bargaining

Trine P. Larsen* and Mikkel Mailand*
*Associate Professors, FAOS University of Copenhagen

Key words: sectoral bargaining, precarious work,  social partners

Across Europe, distinct forms of “atypical” or “precarious” employment like marginal part-time work, fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and self-employment have become more widespread and as a result such employment forms have been high on the agenda of social partners and national governments. Ample research has explored and mapped the wage and working conditions of atypical workers, including their numbers and main characteristics - often drawing on the broad headings of precariousness (Standing2011), atypical or non-standard employment (Kalleberg 2000) and job quality (Leschke et al2012). The role of collective bargaining (Haiter & Ebisui 2013, Prosser 2014) and social partners (Heery 2009) for the recent development of atypical employment has also received some attention. However, focus has mainly been on trade unions’ approach and responses to atypical employment (McGormick 2011; Keune 2013). The perspective of employers, including social partners’ joint initiatives to lift the floor rights of atypical workers through sectoral bargaining within sectors have received less attention. Thus, wide variations exist regarding union density, collective bargaining coverage, employee representation and usage of atypical employment across sectors (Beckhter et al 2012).

This paper explores the link between industrial relations institutions (sectoral bargaining and social partners) and the recent development in atypical workers and their wage, employment and working conditions in four distinct sectors in Denmark and compare the findings with the situation of atypical workers in other European countries. The main focus is Danish social partners’ approach to atypical employment and their joint initiatives to lift the floor rights of such employees along with the de facto wage and working conditions of such workers. In doing so, we draw on secondary material, statistics and interviews with unions and employers associations in four sectors (hospitals, temporary agency work, construction and industrial cleaning).

Although the incidence of precarious employment appears lower in Denmark compared to other European countries (Keune 2013), the four sectors constitute in Denmark a continuum from the hospital sector with low risk of precariousness, through the construction sector and TWA sector with some problems, to industrial cleaning, where a larger share of employees face an increased risk of low wages and poor working conditions compared to colleagues in the other sectors (Larsen and Mailand, 2014). In the paper, we seek to explain this  variation and test the hypothesis: ‘variations across sectors in terms of the incidence of atypical and precarious employment in Denmark is primarily due to distinct collective bargaining traditions and strong social partners organisations in the four selected sectors’. We test the hypothesis by discussing the role of alternative variables like the economic-technological characteristics of the sectors, the degree of competition the sector faces, and the role of welfare benefits.  A comparative analysis will further test the hypothesis as we here include studies of atypical workers’ situation in the same sectors across Europe.