- Intergenerational bargaining in the EU: comparative report
- Number of pages
- Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced labour Studies (AIAS), University of Amsterdam
- Document type
- Faculty of Law (FdR)
- Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
We conclude that there are three advantages in promoting the ‘intergenerational’ dimension in social dialogue and collective bargaining:
o It strengthens awareness of the specific labour market positions and needs of both younger and older workers.
o It supports social partners’ role in unifying generations of workers - also as a response to public opinion and the risk of ‘generational conflicts’ or age related outsiderness in the labour market and in employment relations.
o It fosters ‘positive-sum’ bargaining by combining and interlinking age related capacities, knowledge and skills and integrated approaches in lifecycle policies (from school-to-work transitions to retirement transition, and all working life phases in between).
This project has resulted in a better understanding of the social partners’ reasons to strive for a better integration of the policies and strategies for younger and older workers through collective bargaining and social dialogue. The social partners’ opportunities to improve the labour market and employment situation and working conditions for both groups are dependent on the national contexts of industrial relations systems, such as the cooperative structures between governments and collective bargaining parties and the scope of dialogue and bargaining between employers and trade unions (especially where the integration of issues of the quality of employment, training and education, health and working conditions is concerned).
This research project has also shown that the Europe-wide crisis has been an enabling factor in promoting intergenerational or age related public policies, although they did not emerge immediately when the crisis started: the bigger public initiatives in the country reports were implemented several years after the onset of the crisis: the French Contrat de génération was implemented in 2012 and the Dutch Generatiepact in 2013. Both public programmes reinforced the governmental approach of not using early retirement schemes for older workers as a policy instrument in solving the problem of youth unemployment (the main intergenerational ‘trade-off’ during the last three decades of the 20th century). We expect continuing political and public attention to the employment participation of both groups, because of the risk that the workers at the beginning as well as at the end of the working lives run to be used as ‘adjustment’ variables in flexible labour markets.
The research results indeed suggest that the old intergenerational ‘trade-off’ - that is, redistributing employment from the older to the newer generations of workers - has disappeared as an important topic in collective bargaining. At the same time, however, the labour market and company practices in some sectors of industry can push for, or generate, a redistribution of jobs towards cheaper or more recently educated workers, for example in the retail industry (in which the labour market is more constituted as a ‘lump sum’), the IT sector (in which the older workers’ skills risk becoming obsolete) or in physically demanding workplaces. More tailor-made collective bargaining on investments in skills, health, task differentiation and cross-sector job-to-job policies are needed to prevent unemployment and sickness in later working life phases. For some groups, however, we expect in both the short and the longer run that the social partners in Europe will increase their bargaining activities on the issue of part-time work and flexible and gradual retirement among older workers. These negotiations will deal with regulating compensation for income loss and the needs of older workers themselves, although cost reduction of senior workers’ labour costs will also play a role. The take up of these reduced working hours of the older workers by younger workers can be directly or indirectly addressed in collective bargaining. The relevant case studies in this project (in particular Italy and the Netherlands) have taught us that combining part-time retirement for older workers with new jobs for youths can be both enabled or hindered by the financial compensation for the older worker.
A remarkable finding in this project is that the social partners in all countries (with the possible exception of the UK) have intensified their debates - and sometimes initiated regulations - on the topic of intergeneration transfers of knowledge and skills by involving older workers as mentors, coaches, trainers or instructors for young workers at workplaces, vocational education organizations or in other school-to-work trajectories. Reserving these kinds of tasks for workers in the final phase of their working careers is a valuable option to enable longer working careers for older workers, knowledge management in organizations, and recognizing and appreciating the skills, insights and values of experienced workers (see also Cedefop, 2009; Delay et al., 2011; Jubany et al., 2014). Coordination through collective bargaining and the involvement of trade unions can have a supporting and promoting function for these kind of innovations at the workplace, as we have seen in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
We can also conclude that the collective bargaining parties in most of the case studies seem not to refer to frames and concepts on ‘intergenerational solidarity’, or to ‘intergenerational conflicts’, when discussing or negotiating age related employment or working conditions. Social partners in many case studies address the specific, work related needs of both younger and older workers, without bargaining on intergenerational ‘trade-offs’. This can be done through approaches targeting specific age groups in labour market policies and in collective agreements (Sweden, Netherlands, France, Germany), or through an approach in which the needs and interests of youths or older workers are addressed in age neutral, general regulations (UK). Nevertheless, some tensions between age groups are signalled in some of the country reports, for example regarding the negotiations on the austerity measures in older workers’ provisions and their conversion into new provisions for workers in all working career phases in the Netherlands. In this case we have seen negotiations along the intergenerational redistributive logic that does not concern employment but a distribution of terms and conditions of employment. Another complex case dealing with intergenerational solidarity is that of the debates in German firms about age group related priorities in HR policies and the related distributive decisions in the context of the demography related funds and framework agreements. These tensions and dialogues between generations of workers can be better moderated when young workers are more organized by trade unions and when they are given a stronger voice in trade unions’ decisions and actions. Intergenerational bargaining approaches and activities are challenged by the ageing memberships of trade unions in Europe (Keune, 2015). Vandaele (2012) concludes that youth representatives across Europe find their confederations’ responsiveness and commitment to organizing younger workers inadequate. Trade unions are only to a limited extent adapting their internal policies and strategies to support young people and engage the new generation of workers in their activities and decision-making structures.
Besides the more targeted logic of organizing intergenerational learning in collective bargaining, and the more political dependent logic of public employment policies for youth and older workers, we think that bargaining along the lifecycle logic is a promising approach in collective bargaining, because of its ambition and ability to respond to - and to anticipate - the specific and changing needs of workers in work-life phases and during their careers, from the school-to-work transition to the work-retirement transition. Such an approach can include topics on the quality of work and employment, health issues, training, job design or redesign, and work-life balance to foster an improved labour market inclusion of youth workers and higher quality working career extensions for older workers. The biggest challenge in this approach is to extend it to workers in less organized sectors and to those with less stable career patterns.
- Final report of the project iNGenBar - Intergenerational bargaining, financed by the European Commission; DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion; Social Dialogue, Industrial Relations (VS/2013/0353).
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