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Occupational welfare dynamics and labour market segmentation. A comparative company-level case study analysis in logistics and manufacturing in Belgium.

Book - Dissertation

This thesis focuses on occupational welfare that has been related to growing welfare dualism (Natali and Pavolini 2014; Seeleib-Kaiser et al. 2012). Occupational welfare is defined as the sum of all benefits and services distributed by employers to employees as part of their employment (Titmuss 1958) and can include 'social' benefits such as pensions, childcare, sickness, and unemployment benefits, as well as 'fringe' benefits like company cars, meal vouchers, and profit-sharing bonuses. It is argued that merely examining segmentation outcomes as a result of macro-level institutional changes is insufficient to explain why and how occupational welfare-related segmentation is (re)produced (Biegert 2014). Instead, it is contended that to gain insight in processes of segmentation, occupational welfare dynamics underpinning the introduction and implementation of occupational welfare through collective negotiations need to be examined as a way to assess the effects on the workforce. The main research questions are: How, and why -under which conditions - does (increasing) occupational welfare contribute to labour market segmentation? The research uses a multiple case study design to provide an insight into across and within-sector variation using evidence from multinational companies in the manufacturing and private services in Belgium. The workplace case studies encompass the operations of multinational companies in the manufacturing (in the food and in the chemical sector), and in the service industry (logistics). The analyses show that occupational welfare can contribute to labour market segmentation, which can be explained at the intersection of sectoral and local bargaining dynamics. There is an important role for trade unions (Streeck 1987); however, occupational welfare puts pressure on traditional collective mechanisms by undermining sector level bargaining and trade unions' power to counter segmentation strategies of employers. The degree to which trade unions are able to mitigate segmentation depend on the company and the sectoral characteristics that delineate the power and strategies or the options available to social partners. In order to gather more insight in the national level context in shaping occupational welfare-related segmentation, a separate chapter includes an examination of occupational welfare dynamics in an across-sector (food and chemical sector) and across-country comparison (Belgium and Germany). It is shown that there are similar trends in occupational welfare dynamics across and within sectors across countries, however, less segmentation has been found in Belgium where actors operate within more inclusive collective bargaining structure. This research shows that workplace dynamics are embedded within labour market structures where different sectoral and company conditions can lead to different segmentation outcomes. This has caused a high level of occupational welfare variation within one country. My research thereby confirms existing studies in the employment and industrial relations tradition pointing to the relevance of the sector when examining occupational welfare dynamics and outcomes. This variation has often been neglected in comparative industrial research that often focuses on the national level even though it is widely acknowledged that there is sector variation as each sector is shaped by specific product and labour markets that result in different workforces, work practices, and economic contexts (Bechter et al. 2012). Trade unions can use different power resources to counter segmentation practices; however, their strategies are limited in the face of weakening institutional framework and product markets. Labour markets do not offer an effective self-regulating mechanism and needs to be regulated (Commons 1909). This is why there is a need for policy to (re)collectivize or (re)regulate in order to mitigate downward wage flexibility and segmentation practices.
Publication year:2021