Rebuilding solidarity in an age of job dualisation

A growing body of comparative political economy literature argues that western countries are increasingly dualised. According to this strand, the gap between workers is expanding. Some workers are covered by collective agreements, have standard contracts and have access to standard social protection, while others hold atypical contracts, have access to a second-tier welfare state and are not covered by collective agreements. This dualisation process results from labour legislation reforms that allowed the spread of atypical contracts; welfare state reforms, that allowed the creation of residual, income-tested, and in-work benefits for some individuals; and collective bargaining reforms that eroded collective bargaining coverage. The covid-19 pandemic has made even clearer the need to rethink these divisions, which are characterised by the existence of winners and losers. The guiding question of this project is: under which conditions can dualisation be overcome and solidarity fostered? The project focusses on one key dimension of dualisation: the regulation and use of atypical contracts, i.e. fixed-term contracts, self-employment and agency work. From our perspective, the type of contract is a key element of dualisation, and is of paramount importance to explain labour market inequalities and the disintegration of solidarity in the sphere of work. Thus, when speaking about reforms that foster solidarity, we mean inclusive reforms that improve the protection provided by atypical contracts. The main argument of the project is that fostering solidarity involves three levels of action: labour law (national), collective bargaining (meso and micro) and workplace-level arrangements (micro). Labour law plays a decisive role in establishing the conditions under which atypical contracts can be used. Collective agreements are important because they can define better (or worse) conditions than those established in the labour code regarding the use of atypical contracts. And it is at the workplace level that regulation is either respected or not. Following some political scholars’ recent calls, an innovative facet of the project is to recover industrial democracy, i.e. advocacy for corporate governance regulation, as a key aspect to foster solidarity. By analysing how different levels combine, the project attempts to design a multi-level strategy to foster solidarity. This is a topical debate. First, atypical employment has been rising in many western countries in recent decades. In Portugal, the share of involuntary fixed-term contracts increased from 7.5 in 2000 to 18.1 in 2018. Second, this labour market divide translates into social divides (older vs younger generations; public vs private sector workers) that jeopardise social cohesion, and a number of scholars have recently documented a relationship between dualisation and the rise of populism. Third, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis show that workers with atypical contracts are in a very vulnerable position when market conditions change abruptly. In those circumstances, they not only face a massive fall in income but also difficulty in accessing social protection. Finally, the speeding up of digitalisation and automation is boosting the use of atypical contracts. As polarisation scholars have highlighted, technological change is contributing to an increasing gap between workers. This further shows the need to regulate atypical forms of work, including those with no employment contract, such as digital platform work. The project relies primarily on case study methods. Labour law reforms will be studied using Fuzzy Set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) and a comparative case study analysis of Portugal and Spain (WP2). FsQCA will be used to study the conditions in which inclusive reforms are implemented in a large set of EU countries. A comparative case study analysis will be carried out to clarify the conditions under which socialist parties undertake these reforms in Portugal and Spain. WP3 studies the relationship between labour law reforms and changes to the content of collective agreements regarding the use of atypical contracts in Portugal. Finally, comparative case studies will be conducted in WP4 to study the role of workplace democracy arrangements. This WP analyses the implementation of a national public programme (PREVPAP - 2017-2019) which aimed to convert atypical into permanent contracts in the Portuguese public administration. It examines whether the involvement of workers’ representatives at the workplace level was a necessary condition for the full implementation of the programme in universities. Case studies of Spanish universities are conducted with similar objectives. The team and consultants have recognised expertise on case study methods, including fsQCA.

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DINÂMIA'CET-IUL - Centre for Socioeconomic Change and Territorial Studies
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