Previous Projects

Key findings from our previous work

NEW EUROPEAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS (NEIRE) I:

EMPOWERING EUROPEAN WORKER REPRESENTATIVES TO NEGOTIATE FLEXIBLE, FAIR AND INNOVATIVE LABOUR RELATIONS

Relations between employers, trade unions, and employees in Europe are rapidly changing. The new competitive demands for organizations, the globalization process and economic turbulence, new technologies and growing diversity in work forces are leading to new organizational conflicts in which Employee Representatives (ERs) play a central role. Given the context of organizational conflicts, and the tendency towards individualization of labour relations and union decline, the ER’s role is confronted with new challenges in the framework of the European Industrial Relation system.

 

The overall aim of the  New European Industrial Relations (NEIRE) project is to improve the quality of social dialogue as a tool for innovation, first, by empowering European ERs,  and second, by exploring European employers’ experiences and expectations on structures, roles, attitudes and competencies of  ERs.

A first study was conducted between 2010 and 2012 cofounded by the European Commission Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities DG (Project Ref. VS/2010/0376) the Spanish Ministry of Science (Project Ref. PSI 2008/00503 and PSI 2011/29256) and the partner organizations. Its main focus was to explore how to empower ERs. This study includes quantitative data from more than 2300 ERs and qualitative data from 80 interviews with ERs from 8 European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom (Munduate, Euwema, & Elgoibar, 2012).

 

OBJECTIVES OF THE ACTION

 

The aim of this action is to enhance the expertise of ERs. The general objectives are:

 

  1. a) to analyse the structural, institutional and personal variables that affect the perception and role development of the ERs in different European Industrial Relations Systems;
  2. b) to analyse the consequences of the ERs behaviour for themselves and their organizations; and
  3. c) to design and disseminate strategies to promote sustainable motivation and empowerment of ERs by means of the provision of personal and institutional resources that allow them to orient themselves towards flexible and innovative labour relations.

 

Therefore, the action involves an organizational and individual approach.  From an organizational perspective, ERs play a critical role in shaping and mediating the relationship between managers and their co-workers.  However, in recent years there has been a decrease of ERs´ power within organizations (Edwards, 2008, called it the “representation gap”), mainly due to the increase of an individualistic approach to employment relationships or idiosyncratic deals, “I-deals” is the term coined by Rousseau (2005). This implies that the ER’s role needs to be adapted to the new circumstances, to occupy a powerful position in the decision-making process. With the main goal of making ERs able to achieve an influential role in organizational decisions, we consider the following topics in this study: flexibility in negotiation, employability, corporate social responsibility, partnership relations and trust (with management and co-workers).

 

From an individual perspective, ERs need to increase their ability to manage conflict (with management and co-workers); identify and negotiate new organizational arrangements, retaining the dignity and well-being for themselves and their co-workers. In order to prevent workers from becoming passive recipients and make them constructively engaged in the structural processes, ERs have to improve their competences and promote union innovation, nurture the attraction and commitment with unions, bolster their influence, and manage personal role conflicts and stress as ERs.  

 

KEY RESULTS

European Union has established its ambition to be an innovative and flexible economy and this requires new methods of collective negotiation at an organizational level. In particular, ERs are expected to negotiate more flexible arrangements which meet the individual needs of workers. This requires new and more complex skills and competences from ERs.  Therefore, to implement improvement strategies and empower ERs, a Best Practices Program (BPP) has been designed together with experts in IR and stakeholders in the action: ERs, trade union leaders, management  representatives, policy makers and academics

 

In that sense, this action benefits both the ERs and the organizations, as well as the rest of IR actors in the following ways:

 

  1. The BPP provides the ERs with the strategies to achieve a greater involvement of all parties in the decision–making and implementation processes.
  2. Better practices of ERs in the organization reinforce the negotiation processes and the cooperation with the management and thus enable them to reach agreements which can benefit both sides of the negotiation table.
  3. At a personal level, the BPP examines the key factors for reinforcing the role of ERs, helping them to adapt to the changing needs of those they represent. Moreover, it explores innovative solutions to employment development; combating exclusion and improving quality of life and work at a local level.
  4. The BPP also implies a better understanding of the difficulties that ERs encounter in different European industrial relations systems, because the training policy involves strategies to enhance engagement and low their stress and burnout levels.
  5. In the context of the current economic crisis, the capability of the ERs empowered by  training on BPP, contributes to Corporate Social Responsibility, to the support of strategic business partnership,  the improvement of relationships and  the building of trust, preparation and management of employment, quality of work, preparation and management of change, flexicurity, youth employment, to health and safety strategy, gender equality, reconciliation of work and family life, action in the field of antidiscrimination, active ageing, active inclusion and good work. All these are priorities for employees who are defended more efficiently by their ERs in labour negotiations if they manage efficient and innovative competences.
  6. An additional outcome with relevant implication for European IR stakeholders involve the building of a new European research network (NEIRE network) with experts in IR including the University of Seville, University of Leuven, University of Manchester, University of Amsterdam, University of Tallinn, University ISCTE of Lisbon, University of Munich, University Otto von Guericke of Magdeburg, national trade unions in Europe, and other research centers (i.e. Kalovig resolution center and Team Arbejsliv). The fruitful collaboration between the partners as well as with the stakeholders in each country allowed the efficient design of the BPP and the  consolidation of an European network with a  critical mass of experts.

Two publications available in this website present the key findings and recommendations from this action:

  1. The “Best practices proposal” is a summary with Good Practice proposals available online in 9 languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, and Estonian
  2. The Handbook “Ten steps for empowering employee representatives in the new European industrial relations” is published by McGraw Hill.