5. European labour markets, precarious jobs and trade unions

The group will be organized on Friday 27.10.2017 at 09:00-11:00 in room L139

In the industrialized countries of Europe, the traditional permanent job from which a worker could expect to earn a living wage over years or decades has become scarce, while short-term, unpredictable and poorly paid positions have proliferated. Labeled as “precarious” work, these jobs are widely viewed as either symptoms or causes of rising inequality, poverty, and reduced economic and social mobility.

Welfare states, rather than adapting to comprehensively insure those in precarious employment, tend to grant precarious workers more limited benefits that those in secure positions, prompting Guy Standing, among others, to assert that precarious work is a form of “denizenship,” or limited citizenship.   While some see the causes of precarity in labour market dualization, caused by trade union insiders protecting their members at the expense of labour market outsiders, others rather see unions as the solution to precarity, because in many cases they seek to mobilize and represent precarious workers.  Precarity has been found to relate to outsourcing, and new forms of business contracting, with workers lower down in supply chains usually experiencing more precarious and exploitive conditions than those in the core.  It also impacts variably on different social groups, with gender, ethnicity, age, education, social class and migration status, intersecting to segment labour markets. 

We welcome submission of research on all aspects of precarious work, including but not limited to migrant precarious worker and the trade union representation of precarious workers.





Instrumentalism collectivism as a mean for constructing solidarity? Migrant workers and union-based solidarity

Markku Sippola, University Lecturer 

Transnational labour migration is challenging national labour market systems, workplace solidarity and the labour market rights of the migrant workers. This is in part explained by migrant workers’ instrumental approach to national unions, which often is problematic for national unions, although workers’ instrumental approach is nothing new. While transnational solutions have been purported the outlook for these seem rather bleak. The paper discusses the implications of increased labour migration for national, union-based models of solidarity and workplace solidarity and how workers’ collectivism can secure inclusion of migrant workers in the national systems. Our research draws upon data collected among migrant construction workers in Finland and Denmark (in the latter, also to some extent also workers in slaughterhouses). This paper mainly focuses on the Finnish cases of the study, highlighting Estonian and Polish posted workers' sentiments toward unionism. Emphasising the importance of the local workers’ collectivistic heritage in industrial relations, we show that there are fertile grounds for migrant workers to be included in collectivistic solutions, in Finland and Denmark mainly within the realm of unions.


Organized outsiders? Trade union membership of Estonian workers in Finland

Laura Mankki,  Ph.D. Candidate 
Markku Sippola, University Lecturer 

Based in our previous analysis we find that the migration narratives and union attitudes of migrants usually fell into patterns consistent with the industrial relations backdrop of the host country. (Danaj et al forthcoming). In this paper, basing on our analysis of 51 Estonian workers’ interviews, we look into what kind of meanings do Estonians give to union membership while working in highly gendered industries. We investigate the differences and similarities that appear in the life stories of Estonians on trade union membership while working in highly female or male dominated industry. In this paper we concentrate particularly on the stories of 28 Estonians who have been members of the Finnish trade union. By concentrating on those 28 Estonians we will show that even though organising in the unions improves Estonians labour market situation there are cases that hint that  migrants may become what is called the “organized outsiders” (Julkunen & Rantalaiho 1993). Julkunen and Rantalaiho use the term to describe Finnish women’s role in the trade union movement as being members of the union but not gaining power the same way as men. We will use the concept to discuss trade union membership of Estonians in the context of migration. We find that factors that affect Estonian workers’ attachment to trade union can neither be traced solely to migrants’ integration process such as learning the language, knowing their labour rights nor can it be traced to trade union’s strategies but we also need to look how the precariousness changes the working conditions of certain industries and as such affects also the way workers negotiate their position in the labour market. 


Union Campaigns against Precarious Work in the Retail Sector of Estonia, Poland, and Slovenia

Adam Mrozowicki, Branko Bembič, Kairit Kall, Małgorzata Maciejewska, and Miroslav Stanojević

This study focuses on trade union responses to precarisation of work in the retail sector in three post-socialist Centarl Easters European countries, Estonia, Poland and Slovenia. The aim of the paper is to analyse the influence of sectoral specifics, different institutional factors and trade unions’ power resources upon union approaches towards precarious work and to explore for potential new patterns of solidarity. The main thrust of our argument is that while unions’ power is crucial for developing and sustaining the industrial relations institutions which in turn shape the constraints and opportunities for trade unions’ actions, the strategic choices exerted by the trade union leaders matter. While higher institutional and associational power still enables Slovene unions to regulate the conditions of precarious workers to a certain extent, the institutional weakness of Estonian and Polish unions make them to increasingly rely on their network embeddedness and narrative resources to mobilise against precarisastion.


Structure and dynamics of chronic unemployment in Denmark, Finland and Germany

Simo Aho

Widespread and persistent long-term and/or recurrent unemployment is a serious social problem as well as an expensive economic burden for the welfare state. It is a continuous concern of policy makers.

This paper starts with the observation that conventional statistics do not adequately reveal how widespread long-term exclusion from regular, genuinely market-based employment actually is. After the interruption of individual unemployment spells by e.g. participation in active labour market policy (ALMP) measures, short casual employment, or periods outside labour force because of illness, family reasons or education unemployment often continues, and the statistics do not grasp the actual length of the individual problem of being without a “real” job.  Our concept of “chronic unemployment” (CU) assesses the share of people with weak links to the open labour market, although belonging to the labour force.

We compare three countries: Denmark, Finland and Germany. This allows comparison of the incidence and dynamics of CU against the background of varying labour market insti­tutions like the social security system, ALMP, and employment protection legislation.  

Our main questions are:

  1. Is “chronic unemployment” a common feature of post-industrial labour markets and advanced welfare states, or are there clear differences in scope and dynamics of “chronic unemployment” across the countries under scrutiny? If so, how can they be explained?
  2. Can activation/ALMP affect the dynamics (inflow, duration and outflow) and prevalence of CU or is ALMP rather a means to adjust into structural unemployment?

Our study is based on extensive and rich longitudinal register data sets, including detailed information on individual labour market histories, allowing long follow up periods of individuals. The data is fairly well comparable between the three countries.

The first comparative empirical results are presented at the conference.


Reconstructing Solidarity: Labour Unions, Precarious Work, and the Politics of Institutional Change in Europe

Virginia Doellgast, Nathan Lillie and Valeria Pulignano, eds

Work is widely thought to have become more precarious. Many people feel that unions represent the interests of protected workers in good jobs at the expense of workers with insecure employment, low pay, and less generous benefits. Reconstructing Solidarity: Labour Unions, Precarious Work, and the Politics of Institutional Change in Europe argues the opposite: that unions try to represent precarious workers using a variety of creative campaigning and organizing tactics.

 Where unions can limit employers’ ability to ‘exit’ labour market institutions and collective agreements, and build solidarity across different groups of workers, this results in a virtuous circle, establishing union control over the labour market. Where they fail to do so, it sets in motion a vicious circle of expanding precarity based on institutional evasion by employers. Reconstructing Solidarity examines how unions build, or fail to build, inclusive worker solidarity to challenge this vicious circle and to re-regulate increasingly precarious jobs. Comparative case studies from fourteen European countries describe the struggles of workers and unions in industries such as local government, retail, music, metalworking, chemicals, meat packing, and logistics. Their findings argue against the thesis that unions act primarily to protect labour market insiders at the expense of outsiders.