Transnational Work and the Evolution of Sovereignty

A four-year Research Project on Posted Work in the European Union

Funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (TWES 263782)

Timing: From 1-2011 to 12-2014


This research examines the growth of posted migrant work in the European Union, and the impact of this on industrial relations. Within the European Union, changes in the application of EU law have resulted in the deterritorialization of sovereign regulatory authority. National industrial relations systems have been subordinated to internal market freedoms in four recent European Court of Justice decisions. These constrain the rights of unions and governments to regulate working conditions of foreign service providers operating in their territory, in effect allowing firms to create “spaces of exception” by exploiting enclaves of alternative, deterritorialized sovereignty.

It is hypothesized that variegated sovereignty is facilitating the segmentation of labor markets, via transnational subcontracting and agency work.


The project involved fieldwork in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and at the EU level. The study was based on ethnographic interviews, to record the experiences of posted migrants and 'native' workers who work with them, and 'expert' interviews of managers, union officials, and policy makers. Two industries were selected for study: construction and metalworking, because of the prevalence of posted workers in those industries. There was also a series of policy interviews aimed at understanding the political/legal changes taking place in the European Union which facilitate the growth of variegated sovereignty. These were used to construct a series of comparative case studies of work sites and industries.