Europe: Study on industrial relations and privatisation

published 6 April 2021 updated 6 April 2021

A study for the ETUCE, EI’s European region, showed the impact of market ideology and management practices and privatisation on industrial relations and social dialogue. In addition to looking at the evolution of EU policy in the past decade, researchers studied different methods and results of industrial relations in Francophone Belgium, Italy, Poland, and Sweden.

Although the study placed national developments in the context of European education policy trends, similar “reforms” and conflicts can be found in other regions. Regardless of the varying national responses, changes in education take place in the context of a larger ideological shift. Governments increasingly promote the market and its actors in general and transplant private sector management approaches and methods and business involvement into public services.

Although the EU has stressed the importance of education to society and the economy, it has, at the same time, encouraged the involvement of private business in education policy, design, monitoring, evaluation, and delivery. Research also showed the impact of “new public management” in all countries studied. The timeframe of the study is the last decade.

As shown in the study, there have been persistent austerity measures, liberalisation, decentralisation and managerialist reforms in the education sector. They have focused on individual performance management, results-based accountability, and greater involvement of private actors in the provision of education. Such reforms are individualising the workplace. They may weaken collective bargaining and its solidarity and equity impact. In some countries, there has been a slide towards decentralised bargaining with growing disparities among school personnel, including at school level. Such shifts may limit the scope of bargaining and foster de-humanisation, fragmentation, and competition among workers.

The research shows variations in the impact of social dialogue and union bargaining power depending on national traditions and government attitudes. However, regardless of whether trade unions are at the table, similar reforms are on the agenda.

The full study, “Rhetoric or game changer: Social dialogue and industrial relations in education midst EU governance and privatisation in Europe” can be found here.

An Executive Summary of the research can be found here.

A glossary of terms can be found here.