OCCUPATIONAL WELFARE DYNAMICS AND LABOUR MARKET INEQUALITY. A comparative company-level case study analysis within the manufacturing in Belgium and Germany.
This PhD-project studies occupational welfare, i.e. social benefits (e.g. pensions, health, unemployment benefits) as well as fringe benefits (e.g. company car, meal vouchers, profit sharing), that is negotiated by the social partners in the collective bargaining process. Occupational welfare is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more important in most European countries over the past decade, which has also been picked up by recent research (Natali et al, 2014; 2017). Previous welfare state research mostly focused on benefits provided by the state leaving benefits provided by collective bargaining largely unnoticed. However, as welfare states retrenchment policies and trends in collective bargaining towards deregulation and decentralization continue, the question whether occupational welfare, and specifically its redistribution, includes or divides workers becomes even more pertinent. In line with Trampusch (2007a; 2007b), this research tries to go beyond the national institutional level by examining industrial relations at sector and company-level. Whether occupational welfare contributes to social inequality or not and how this is done, are some of the crucial questions this research tries to answer. It has been argued that (increased) occupational welfare might reinforce bifurcation or existing divides between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ because there is a difference in the objectives and distributional outcome (Jansson et al, 2016; Seelieb-Kaiser et al, 2012). This can be related to the ‘dualization effect’ (Emmenegger et al., 2012), referring to a process of an increased differentiation of rights, entitlements, and services provided to insiders and outsiders strengthening social divides. How and why occupational welfare can lead to social inequalities remains, nevertheless, unanswered. This research will, therefore, examine collective bargaining at the sectoral and company level, i.e. at the levels where occupational welfare is bargained between the social partners (employers and employee representatives). Here, the power relations and strength of the social partners can play an important role. It is, for instance, often taken for granted that trade unions oppose private or occupational welfare in favour of public welfare. Recent studies, however, suggest this may not always be the case. Unions can use certain strategies in the collective bargaining process to include more workers under favourable sectoral agreements (Doerflinger and Pulignano, 2017). To understand how and why occupational welfare is used in collective bargaining, this research uses a qualitative comparative case study. It focuses on the manufacturing sector, an industry with long traditions in collective negotiations, in Belgium and Germany. Within the sector, a comparison of the collectively negotiated benefits is made between the chemical sector (high-skilled labour) and the food sector (low/medium skilled labour). Companies are selected based on size. The selection of two multinational companies in each sector allows a comparison between countries and sectors. Within the sectors, the variation between large and small/medium sized companies can be studied further. With this comparative case study design, this research tries to further our understanding of and provide an explanation for the variation in the distribution of occupational welfare among employees. Thereby, it contributes to the debate on welfare state retrenchment and social inequality as a consequence of a redistribution via collectively negotiated benefits.