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Labour & Industry ; 31(3):181-188, 2021.
Article in English | ProQuest Central | ID: covidwho-20241197


Individualised employment relations formed a key pillar of the shift to neoliberal economic policy in the 1980s, complementing other dimensions of orthodoxy deployed across governments, public administrations and central banks in the same time. In the neoliberal narrative, market forces would ‘naturally' and justly compensate labour for its contribution to productivity, like any other input to production. Consequently, redistributive institutions empowering workers to win more adequate wages and conditions (through minimum wages, Awards, unionisation, and collective bargaining) were dramatically eroded, or discarded entirely. Combined with welfare state retrenchment, this restructuring of labour market policy increased the pressure on people to sell their labour, and under terms over which workers wielded little influence. Since then, forms of insecure, non-standard work have proliferated globally, and employment relations have been increasingly individualised. Now, most workers in Anglo-Saxon market economies, and a growing proportion of workers in European and Nordic nations, rely on individual contract instruments (underpinned only by minimum wage floors typically far below living wage benchmarks) to set the terms and conditions of employment. Wages have stagnated, the share of GDP going to workers has declined, and inequality and poverty (even among employed people) has intensified. More recently, after years of this employer-friendly hegemony in workplace relations, successive crises (first the GFC and then the COVID-19 pandemic) have more obviously shattered traditional expectations of a natural linkage between economic growth and workers' living standards.After a generation of experience with this individualised model of employment relations, and with the human costs of that approach becoming ever-more obvious, there is renewed concern with reimagining policies and structures which could support improvements in job quality, stability, and compensation. Important policy dialogue and innovation is now occurring in many industrial countries, in response to the negative consequences of neoliberal labour market policies. In those conversations, institutions like collective bargaining have returned to centre stage.