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The resilience of collective bargaining – a renewed logic for joint regulation?

The resilience of collective bargaining – a renewed logic for joint regulation?

Moore, Sian, Onaran, Özlem ORCID: 0000-0002-6345-9922 , Guschanski, Alexander ORCID: 0000-0002-7818-8264 , Antunes, Bethania and Symon, Graham (2019) The resilience of collective bargaining – a renewed logic for joint regulation? Employee Relations, 41 (2). pp. 279-295. ISSN 0142-5455 (doi:

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This paper has two objectives, firstly to reassert the persistent association of the decline in collective bargaining with the increase in income inequality, the fall in the share of wages in national income and deterioration in macroeconomic performance in the UK. Secondly the paper presents case studies affirming concrete outcomes of organisational collective bargaining for workers, in terms of pay, job quality, working hours and work-life balance.

The paper is based upon two methodological approaches. Firstly, econometric analyses using industry and firm-level data for advanced and emerging economies testing the relationship between declining union density, collective bargaining coverage and the fall in the share of wages in national income. Secondly it reports on 10 in-depth case studies of collective bargaining each based upon analysis of collective bargaining agreements plus in-depth interviews with the actors party to them: in total 16 trade union officers, 16 members and 11 employer representatives.

There is robust evidence of the effects of different measures of union bargaining power on the labour share of national income. Collective bargaining coverage is a precondition for the effectiveness of unions from the perspective of income distribution. The case studies appear to address a legacy of deregulated industrial relations. A number demonstrate the reinvigoration of
collective bargaining at organisational and sectoral level, addressing the two-tier workforce and contractual differentiation, alongside the consequences of government pay policies for equality.

Research limitations/implications:
The case studies represent a purposive sample and therefore findings are not generalisable; researchers are encouraged to test the suggested propositions further.

Practical implications:
The paper proposes that tackling income inequality requires a restructuring of the institutional framework in which bargaining takes place and a level playing field where the bargaining power of labour is more in balance with that of capital. Collective bargaining addresses a number of the issues raised by the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices as essential for ‘good work’ yet is at odds with the review’s assumptions and remedies. The case studies reiterate the importance of strong workplace representation, and bargaining at workplace level, that advocates for non-members and provides a basis for union recruitment, organisation and wider employee engagement.

The paper indicates that there may be limits to employer commitment to deregulated employment relations. The emergence of new or reinvigorated collective agreements may represent a concession by employers that a ‘free’, individualised, deinstitutionalised, precarious approach to industrial relations, based on wage suppression and work intensification is not in their interests in the long run.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: unions; collective bargaining; wages
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Last Modified: 08 May 2019 08:37

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