The OECD says collective bargaining is the best way to deliver better work

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Published date
11 Dec 2018
A new jobs strategy from the club of developed nations recognises the importance of collective bargaining to delivering better work

Last week the OECD (the club of developed nations) published its latest jobs strategy – its first in 12 years.

The strategy is the organisation's best advice on how to deliver decent work in the face of widespread technological change.

And what it says is that collective bargaining by key trade unions is at the heart of how governments should be delivering better work.

The OECD doesn’t have a formal role in setting national or international policy, but its reports are important resources for policy makers.

Its first jobs strategy, published in 1994, is widely seen as influential in pushing the idea of labour market flexibility, used to justify the dismantling of workers’ rights.

The new strategy isn’t perfect (you can read the full assessment by TUAC, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the TUC here).

But in recognising the important role of collective bargaining in delivering better jobs, it’s a pretty remarkable turnaround for an institution that until recently was promoting breaking up sectoral bargaining institutions.

And it gives trade unions a wealth of evidence to help us argue what we know from our experience: that collective bargaining is the best way to deliver better work.

It shows that:

  • Collective bargaining tackles inequality
    Collective bargaining institutions and social dialogue can help promote a broad sharing of productivity gains, including with those at the bottom of the job ladder, provide voice to workers and endow employers and employees with a tool for addressing common challenges.”
  • Collective bargaining can boost productivity
    Well-functioning collective bargaining institutions, particularly when associated with high coverage, can also be useful. They allow for more differentiation in terms of wages and working conditions than statutory rules, can foster skills development and skills use in the workplace, and allow for the effective dissemination of good working practices.”
  • Collective bargaining helps manage industrial change – provided governments let them
    One of the most salient features of successful collective bargaining systems may be their ability to adapt gradually to changing economic conditions within their national industrial-relations tradition. This depends crucially on the quality of industrial relations, but also on a government that provides space for collective bargaining and social dialogue, while setting the boundaries.”
  • Collective bargaining (and particularly co-ordinated collective bargaining) is good for employment – including for vulnerable groups
    As the Employment Outlook which the OECD published in May put it: Co-ordinated systems are linked with higher employment and lower unemployment, also for young people, women and low-skilled workers than fully decentralised systems.”
  • Collective bargaining keeps people in jobs
    Well-designed collective bargaining systems are also found to promote labour market resilience by facilitating adjustments in wages and working time.”

The OECD also calls on governments to:

put in place a legal framework that promotes social dialogue in large and smalls firms alike and allows labour relations to adapt to new emerging challenges.

In the UK that would start with repealing the unfair and undemocratic trade union act, which pushed the UK government even further away from having the legal framework trade unions need to organise and win more for workers.

But even if our government isn’t listening, trade unions know that collective bargaining is the best way to deliver better jobs – and we’ll keep fighting to expand it.