Saturday, March 9, 2013
Rethinking Workplace Regulation: Beyond the Standard Contract of Employment
Editors: Katherine V.W. Stone and Harry Arthurs
(Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2013)
Contributors: Takashi Araki, Harry Arthurs, Thomas Bredgaard, Bruno Caruso, Alexander J.S. Colvin, Mark Freedland, Morley Gunderson, Thomas Haipeter, John Howe, Robert Kuttner, Julia Lopez Lopez, Keisuke Nakamura, Michio Nitta, Anthony O’Donnell, Michael Rawling, Ida Regalia, Katherine V.W. Stone, Kendra Strauss, Julie Suk, and
This volume, composed of chapters by leading scholars from ten countries representing eight disciplines, addresses the impact of globalization, technological change, new management HR strategies, and the financial crisis on the nature of employment relationships in advanced economies. It takes as it premise the fact that the employment relationship has undergone a profound transformation in the past 20 years. For most of the 20th century, employment was built around the standard employment contract, a social practice as well as a legal construct that assumed that workers would be employed with a single firm for an extended period of time, and that they would be provided with decent wages and benefits, and given reliable advancement opportunities within their employer’s internal labor market. That assumption has become untenable. Today many employers have found it to their advantage to outsource work and to reduce their core labor force by utilizing new recruits or temporary workers. They seek to lower labor costs by curtailing pay and benefits and breaking the link between pay and length of service. They are also expanding the use of “project work,” bringing in specialized skilled workers on an as-needed basis rather than developing skills in their own workforce. As a result, precarious employment is becoming common as workers move from the standard employment contract to temporary, part-time and agency work or to self-employment. These developments are documented in an appendix that brings together data from international and domestic sources.
The changes in the nature of employment have undermined many public policies and labor market practices that developed before and after the Second World War. In most industrial countries, collective bargaining arrangements, employment laws, workplace pensions, social security, health insurance and other social benefits assumed that workers will remain with a single employer for a protracted period. Job security has been typically protected through seniority and notice provisions and/or prohibitions against arbitrary or unjust dismissal, and workers have been insulated from the consequences of unemployment through a contributory insurance system. Finally, unions in most countries organize workers on a firm or sectoral basis, on the assumption that their members’ employment with the firm or within a sector is stable and on-going.
In response to the transformation in the nature of employment relations, many countries are experimenting with new regulatory responses to try to balance workers’ security with firms’ demand for flexibility. These experiments include “flexi-curity” strategies, new schemes of social protection, revised legal concepts of contract, innovative approaches to union organization and firm-based “total HR management”, and regional initiatives to stabilize local labor markets. This volume reports on some of these recent experiments, many of which are too new to have proven themselves. Moreover, they have been conducted in specific national contexts that it may be difficult to replicate elsewhere. Nonetheless, an important finding of our project is that some new labor regulatory and labor market policies are developing and that it is important for national policy makers to inform themselves about how other countries are addressing quite similar problems. Hopefully, new ideas derived from cross-national comparisons will inspire them to try things that are not part of mainstream thinking in their own country.