Education International
Education International

Weakening collective bargaining hurts recovery, says ILO

published 17 September 2012 updated 20 September 2012

EI has welcomed the recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) analysis, demonstrating that some governments unilaterally reformed collective bargaining arrangements at the height of the economic crisis. The ILO stated that reversing those decisions and providing policy support for collective bargaining would be key to recovery.

Weakening or decentralising collective bargaining arrangements– as some countries have done during the crisis – is likely to lead to more wage inequalities and social instability, ILO warned.

“Decentralising the process and letting companies negotiate in the absence of strong national and sectoral agreements, puts downward pressure on wages and working conditions,” said Susan Hayter, ILO’s senior industrial and employment relations specialist.

Stronger trade unions for equitable societies

She noted that the sharp rise in wage inequality in the United States and the United Kingdom in recent years can be directly linked to the decline in union membership and the associated decline in coverage by collective bargaining agreements. “But when there is significant policy support for collective bargaining mechanisms, such as in Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, the gap between the highest and lowest wage earners is significantly lower,” she highlighted.

ILO: Parties involved decide level of negotiation

According to Hayter, the position of the ILO is clear: it is up to the parties themselves to decide at what level they wish to negotiate.

During the crisis, many employers, governments and trade unions recognised that collective bargaining was an effective tool to adjust to economic conditions and stay in business.

Also, while wages and working time remain the primary issues for collective bargaining, the process is increasingly being used to address the specific concerns related to the global economic crisis. Pay is being linked to productivity, and flexible working time arrangements are being negotiated to balance work and family life.

Training and lifelong learning included in collective bargaining agendas

“To respond to technological change and rising job insecurity,” Hayter added, “collective bargaining agendas now also include training and lifelong learning. That’s worked particularly well in Europe, where countries with strong social partners and strong institutional support for collective bargaining have had the most success in setting up frameworks for continuing vocational training, benefiting both enterprises and workers in times of continuing economic uncertainty.”

EI: Collective bargaining for democratic societies

“EI has been a strong voice for the fundamental rights and dignity of each and every individual and history demonstrates that independent and inclusive unions and the right to bargain collectively are essential to perpetuating those values in democratic society,” EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards said.

He noted that “the rapidly changing nature of school management models has allowed private education providers, to which EI is fundamentally opposed, to play an increasingly significant role in the privatisation of public schools and creates new challenges to organising.”

“Educators worldwide firmly condemn obstacles currently been set up by Governments to the use of their collective bargaining rights in too many countries, as these rights are deeply detrimental to the teaching profession, education, and  ultimately to the future of societies.”

EI Resolution condemns negative impact of crisis on education sector and labour rights

The 2011 EI Resolution on the Sustained Funding of Public Education in the midst of the Economic Crisis deplores that “many governments, faced with growing public debt and budgetary constraints which grew exponentially as a result of the bailout of the financial sector, are adopting austerity measures which include cutting public funding for education, deregulating the teaching profession, privatising education and eliminating employees’ rights to collective bargaining.”

It further reiterates that EI seeks “a commitment from all governments that their education sector and the public service sector would be insulated from the impact of such financial crises, and reinforce efforts globally towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All Goals.

The resolution also calls on all EI affiliates at the national, regional and international levels, to step up the campaign, in collaboration with parents, students and education communities and the wider civil society, in support of quality, accessible, free, publicly-funded education, and to promote education as a public good and a human right.

This resolution is available in full here

To read the ILO analysis, with Susan Hayter’s videos, please click here