The research of AIAS-HSI focuses on the interaction between the individual actors at the micro-level (workers and employers) and collective actors at both the sectoral level (labour unions, industry organisations) and the macro-level (national and international organisations of labour and business and the state, including the European Union). Often, the interaction between the various actors is characterised by power imbalances, which is one important reason for regulating these relations.
Individual workers (both employees and the self-employed) and companies (including public organisations) are the principal actors on the labour market. However, their scope for action is both facilitated and limited by the regulation of labour, which marks the boundaries of the playing field within which individual actors can make choices. In the research programme of AIAS-HSI individual actors are primarily studied in the context of the regulation of labour. The research examines to what extent the regulation of labour shapes the behaviour of individual actors and whether it fits with the values, the preferences and the interests of these actors.
The regulation of labour is the result of the actions of various collective actors. Apart from the obvious role of the state as a legislator, the regulation of labour is also the outcome of the interplay between collective representatives of workers and employers – viz. labour unions and employers’ associations, jointly called the social partners – at the sectoral, national and international level. In many European countries, the employment conditions of a (large) majority of the employees are largely determined by collective agreements that are usually concluded between the social partners. To a varying degree, there is also an interaction between the state and the social partners at the national and international (e.g. EU) level.
Besides the unions, the so-called works councils also play a role at the company level in representing the interests of the workers. To the extent that these works councils play a role in implementing, elaborating or specifying the regulation of labour at the organisational level, usually in consulting with the employer, they are also an object of the research of AIAS-HSI.
Increasingly, the role and the institutional position of the traditional social partners is being questioned as a consequence of declining membership, dwindling representativeness and increasing heterogeneity of both the labour force and business. Whereas the established unions and employers’ associations mainly represent the interests of the old core of the labour market – male breadwinners and large industrial companies – new groups on the labour market – such as women, flexible workers and the self-employed, and small companies and independent entrepreneurs – often do not feel represented. New forms of interest representation arise, e.g. mutual funds (‘bread funds’) or social media initiatives, although it is often not yet clear what role they can play and whether they will replace the traditional interest organisations. The research done by AIAS-HSI focuses equally on new forms of collective actions and collective actors as on the established collective actors.
The regulation of labour within states is increasingly affected by international law-making, especially at the EU level. As a consequence, the role of international actors becomes more important too. These international actors include international governmental organisations (such as the ILO and EU) and their organs (such as the European Commission), as well as international confederations of national labour unions and employers’ associations (such as ETUC and Business Europe).