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The regulation of labour


Work always needs to be regulated and all labour markets are shaped by regulation. Regulation of work is necessary to facilitate economic welfare, but also as a response to or foreclosing social problems, as in offering protection to the working population. Moreover, labour market regulation may create spill-overs that affect other societal issues such as poverty, public safety and the like. In the research of AIAS-HSI, regulation includes a wide range of instruments, including national, EU and international law, government policy, collective bargaining agreements, including those at company level, and voluntary forms of regulation, such as codes of conduct. Regarding legislation, our research is not restricted to labour law but includes other legal fields that potentially impact labour relations. For example, EU competition law may preclude social partners from closing collective agreements for the self-employed.

Our research programme takes a broad approach to regulation, assuming that regulation is formulated in response to perceived societal problems, influenced by continuous societal and economic changes that have an impact on individual actors in the labour market. In turn, collective actors are faced with these impacts through their constituencies, and policy-makers need to consider whether existing regulatory instruments, including possibilities for their enforcement, are still effective in the light of such problems. For instance, globalisation and digitalisation have led companies to restructure business and to rely on a flexible labour pool in order to stay competitive; therefore they may lobby for less rigid employment regulation. From the perspective of workers, the flexibilisation of labour markets has led to an increase of various forms of atypical work, such as on-call workers, temporary agency workers, payroll workers, (solo-)self-employed, and platform workers. These types of work come with a varying extent of job and income security compared with the standard employment relationship, which may be a reason for adjusting existing labour law and/or social security legislation.

Regulation of work may have intended as well as unintended effects. As a consequence, the state, in interaction with collective actors, may have to rethink the validity and the importance of certain objectives of regulation and its effects, which may lead to different choices regarding instruments or level of regulation. Apart from the state’s role as legislator, the regulation of labour is also the outcome of the interplay between collective representatives of workers and employers, i.e. labour unions and employers’ associations. In our research, we pay attention to the role that the values held by collective and individual actors, which are subject to change over time, play with regard to regulation. The recognition of an imbalance between values and existing regulation may be an important reason for adapting labour market regulation and ancillary policies regarding the welfare state.