IREC Work groups

The abstracts of the presentations will be published at week 34


1. Dimensions and trends in work representation 

Chairs: Raquel Rego, Universidade de Lisboa; Hermes CostaUniversidade de Coimbra   

In European countries, representativeness enables social partners to act on behalf of their members and with this legitimacy usually assessed by public agencies and other actors through a ‘mutual recognition’ system. In the wake of the ILO recommendations for objective and predictable criteria, objective indicators have been agreed in some particular contexts with ‘density’, the proportion of membership against the total potential number of members, emerging as the most relevant. 
Density has, for instance, served to attribute negotiating powers in the national context as well as assessing whether social partners are eligible to enter into the European social dialogue. Although the most common and relevant, density remains a limited and often unreliable indicator, contributing to inefficiencies in the political and economic system. In this sense, we may also state that density contributes to the continuity of the EU social policy representativeness enigma. 

This session aims to discuss papers focusing on the representation of interests related with trade unions and/or employer associations. Recently, technological and economic changes in several sectors have led to the emergence of new forms of organising worker interests, such as Facebook groups, quasi-unions, etc. These new trends often constitute less structured forms of collective action and challenge the traditional forms of worker representation. In this sense, we are receptive to proposals focusing on both traditional and  new forms of worker representation and/or their strategies. In sum, we seek to gather papers able to contribute to a new and broader concept of representativeness. 


2. Environmental problems, subsequent greening and industrial relations 

Chairs: Satu Ranta-Tyrkkö, University of Jyväskylä; Tero Toivanen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies & BIOS Research Unit 

In the context of industrial relations, environmental concerns have not traditionally been in the focus. Rather, discussions about sustainability have referred to the labour market issues and the regulation and organizing of work. Yet, environmental problems, along with and connected with other systemic ruptures, are challenging the traditional premises of industrial societies. These new wicked problems, which the climate crisis manifests, do not obey national borders, however much nationalist politicians cling to them. The scenario is that European institutional structures may face epochal transformations or crises, which are simultaneously social, political, economic, and environmental. 

In principle, the new articulations of sustainability, “green new deal” and “green economy” are largely approved. In addition, there is a widespread unanimity that contemporary consumerist lifestyles and the modes of production they necessitate are ecologically destructive and that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented change” (IPCC 2018) is necessary. The trouble is that consensus does not convert into consequent action in the required scale and pace, and while greener technology is awaited to deliver the solutions, overall “sustained politics of unsustainability” (Blühdorn 2014, 147) prevails. At the same time, we do not know too much about the concrete decisions, actions and contradictions the new situation has already generated: What kind of consequence does the attempt towards low-carbon or carbon-free production have for industries? Are ecological and social sustainability always the two sides of the same coin? Is the “work first” (or even “decent work first”) policy possible anymore? Are environmental problems a new common agenda or a new contested terrain for the labour market partners? 

By and large, industrial relations discussions need to include environmental issues on their research agenda. There is emerging literature on green industrial relations (Rodnik 2014) or low carbon industrial transition (Hildingsson et al. 2019), but these discussions have only started, and a lot still needs to be explored. To enhance this, the session welcomes contributions, which reflect the interfaces between industrial relations and environmental issues. Both theoretical and empirical studies and case descriptions are welcome. 


3. Work ability, aging and organizational changes 

Chairs: Clas-Håkan Nygård, Tampere University; Jenni Kulmala, Tampere University

In many industrialized countries, there is a sharp increase of the ageing population due to a decrease in fertility and an increase in life expectancy. Most industrialized countries have therefore planned to extend working lives. A first problem is that many people retire very early due to work disability, long before they reach the official retirement age, and secondly work-related demands and stressors may negatively affect health after the retirement. Proper work ability as well as prevention of work-related stressors are requirements for a sustainable and prolonged employment and for healthy aging. Work ability and stress are primarily questions of a balance between work and personal resources. Personal resources change with age whereas work demands may not change parallel to that, or only change due to new technology.  Work ability in average decrease with age, but necessarily not linearly and so much that it ends up with work disability. Several different work ability pathways may exist. Work-related factors as well as general lifestyle may explain the declines and improvements in work ability during aging and they also predict other health outcomes, such as diseases and physical disabilities. The better work ability is, the later is the retirement. This makes work related factors an important occupational and public health issue when the age of the population increases. 


 4. Gender, power & industrial relations 

Chair: Armi Mustosmäki, University of Jyväskylä   

The continuous growth of the service sector, also that of public sector employment, has facilitated women’s entry to the labour force in many countries. Many gender inequalities persists in the labour market: Discrimination in recruitment and career progression, gender pay gap, precarious employment relationships such as non-standard contracts, lower job quality as well as sexual harassment and (threat of) violence at work. In many countries union membership among women is now higher than it is for men: the average member today is a woman in her 40s in the public sector.  However, to what extent has achieving gender equality within their own structures as well as at workplaces and in the labour market a high priority goal to different trade unions is an important question. Equally important is the question how the power of employee and employer associations in economic, labour market and welfare reforms has shaped gender in/equality in wider society. For instance, political decisions such as austerity measures hitting the public sector employees the hardest. Further question is what kind of new challenges or opportunities for gender relations global developments such as digitalization, AI and platform work, climate change and covid19-pandemia bring for industrial relations and social partners.    

This session is open for presentations tackling the gender in/equality in the labour market as well as industrial relations from various perspectives:  the role of women in trade unions, changing structure of collective bargaining and its consequences for gender in/equality, EU and national responses as well as the role of social partners in national or EU level policy-making. We also invite papers on public sector restructuring and outsourcing with their (gendered) effects as well as efforts in reducing the gender pay gap in the public sector. Of great interest, are also papers on as well as digitalization, climate change and covid19, social partner responses and their effects on gender equality. 


5. Collective organisations in a disorganised labour market 

Chairs: Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Birkbeck, University of London; Richard Hyman, LSE; 

Harri Melin, Tampere University 

The organised industrial relations systems typical of most European countries in the post-war era have been almost universally weakened, with the shift from manufacturing to services, privatisation of public sector activities, the move from large companies to smaller firms, the neoliberal political turn and the growth of more flexible forms of work relations in place of what was once viewed as the ‘normal’ employment relationship. 

Trade unions all over Europe have seen their membership decline and their influence dwindle in line with a loss of their traditional power resources. There is by now an extensive literature on strategies for trade union ‘revitalisation’, but we still lack a clear overall map of successes and failures. Though less extensively discussed, employer organisations have also experienced loss of membership coverage and reduced effectiveness, and we know very little about how they have responded.  

In this session we invite presentations from scholars and practitioners on the challenges the collective labour market actors face in an increasingly disorganised world of work, and the strategies they have been adopting in response.  


6. Participation and inclusion in working life and the labour market 

Chairs: Ilkka Kärrylä, University of Helsinki; Pauli Kettunen, University of Helsinki   

The session will enhance discussion on participation and inclusion in Nordic working life ideas and practices. Participation is viewed as a question that concerns the meaning and content of work, labour market relations, and the role of the employee. The themes will look at how recent trends and changes are related to historical modes of thought and action. The session welcomes papers on managerial discourses on employee participation, ’activation’ as a tool in employment policy,  as well as labour market parties’ ideas on the relation of participation and  bargaining.  

Work life and employee requirements have gone through a major transformation in Western countries since the 1980s. The current employee ideal characterised by flexibility, entrepreneurial attitude and interpersonal skills reflects changes in the organisation of work, work organisations and work culture. Moreover, a so-called participatory turn has increasingly emphasised employee involvement and organisational citizenship at workplaces since the 1970s. The apparent objective of these programs is to empower employees.

However, from the perspective of critical management studies, this kind of rhetorics can be seen as a means of making employees to adopt the objectives of employer and carry them out more effectively. Sometimes the use of participatory practices can be a way of legitimising managerial decisions, giving employees only an ostensible possibility to participate in decision-making. ’Participation’ and autonomy may have meant moving from external control to employee self-control as mode of governance. 


7. Trade unions and migrant workers 

Chair: Nathan Lillie, University of Jyväskylä  

The nation state has long been the implicit boundary of the collective “us” for national labour movements. Globalization provides labor movements with a functional imperative for redefining this boundary, encouraging unions to re-frame their self-interest. To borrow the typology Perlmutter (1969) applies to multinational corporations, unions are ethnocentric organizations, meaning they reflect a particular national origin in their structures, strategies, staffing and mentalities. They reflect national-ethnocentric formulations of class interest, arising out of nationally specific trajectories of working class formation. Each specific trade union movement grew up in interaction with its specific nation state, and that state’s institutional framework for regulating capitalism.

Union interaction with new migrant groups tends to shift union organizational identity. Nationally bounded union organizational logic can drive them to treat labour migrants as a threat, although how to deal with this is a strategic choice. As Marino et al. (2017) point out, unions may either try to protect their native members by excluding migrants from the labour market, or alternately, represent migrants to ensure they are not exploited, and thereby prevent wage competition with native workers. Pursuing the former prevents their recruiting migrants, which interferes with their ability to accomplish the later. The two strategies are therefore mutually exclusive, although over time they can change. Willingness to represent migrants, however, is only a first step. Inclusion in activist and leadership positions is a further, and more difficult, step, but one which is important to successful recruitment and representation. For example, as Mulinari and Neergaard (2005) observe from interviews of immigrant union activists in Sweden, many native Swedes assume that immigrants cannot be full participants in the collective historical experience of Swedish working class struggle. However, migrants and natives working in the same physical spaces and labour markets can over time erode the barriers causing unions to prefer exclusion, reconfiguring union interests, causing them to take up multiculturalism and immigrant integration (Marino 2012).

This session will be for research on union engagement with migrant workers, including refugees and asylum seekers, and including issues around migrant organizing, representation, and labour market integration. 


 8Technologies Shaping Work in the 2020’s  

Chair: Tuuli Turja, Tampere University  

In this session we will discuss the impact new technology has on working life. New generation technologies such as intelligent robots and autonomous digital systems entail both opportunities and challenges on how jobs are done and valued, and how work is organized and compensated. What are the outlooks for working life in the new decade?  

We invite presentations from various academic disciplines and methodologies.   


9. Work and working conditions in the platform economy 

Chairs: Valeria Pulignano, CESO – KU Leuven; Kea Tijdens, University of Amsterdam  

Terms like the sharing economy, the gig economy, the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence are today used with exciting image of entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility, empowering individuals beyond any sort of gender- class- and ethnicity horizon while promising to liberating them from the old-fashioned (wage) dependences and discriminatory behavior of a remote past. Scholarly work has produced in depth knowledge of the new forms of work emerging from the digital transformations; yet, we know not sufficiently to date about the variety of work and working conditions of platform workers around the globe. Particularly we miss a systematic comparative analysis of the effects of the advent of the new technologies on work and we do lack an intersectional lens examining those effects at the level of gender, class and ethnicity.    

On the one hand, it is still unclear how traditional forms of regulation and institutional settings as well as different collective actors and governments’ approaches within employment and industrial relations deal with the emergence of platform work. To what extent does the emergence of platform work result in a variety of bad and/or good work? What is the role of the main industrial relations actors, institutions and processes across (and within) different geographical regions (e.g. EU, North America, Asia) and regulatory institutions? On the other hand, and directly related to this, we need to explore and explain for ‘whom’ this variety applies among (and within) different regions? How do ethnicity, gender and class intersect the platform economy? What are the main transformations underpinning the changes in the way of working, living and being of individuals participating in platform work at the intersection of gender, class and migration background? And how do these individuals experience these transformations and the increasing dislocation in time and space brought by the raising of on-line labour markets, and exacerbated by the current COVID pandemic?   

In this stream we want to engage in an open and ‘reflexive’ discussion on the antecedents and consequences of such a way of working. Our central concern is to debate on work within digital platforms and we attempt to shed light on the main theoretical questions and empirical challenges the emergence of this area of research is bringing into light.   


10. Remote work and well-being during COVID-19

Chairs: Anne Mäkikangas, Tampere University; Jessica de Bloom, University of Groningen

Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered the temporal and spatial dimensions of work throughout the world. Many employees have worked and still work from home or other remote locations enabled by digital technologies. The amount of multi-locational work has slowly risen prior to COVID-19 and the global pandemic has accelerated this development. Due to the long-lasting period of continuous remote work, many employees and organizations have been able to appreciate its benefits. Consequently, multi-locational work is predicted to present an increasingly pervasive model of work in the post-pandemic era, and there is an urgent need to better understand which factors contribute to flexible work arrangements promoting well-being and job performance.

The aim of this session is to focus on job-related well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic and individual-, job-, and organizational characteristics associated with employees’ ability to cope with the challenges of remote working. We invite abstracts from various academic disciplines and methodologies dedicated to understanding work and fostering well-being and job performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.


11. Engagement, money and work

Chair: Merja Kauhanen


12. Supporting learning and meaning at work

Chair: Johanna Rantanen, University of Jyväskylä