Trade Unions and Precarious Employment in Eastern Europe

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Aurora TRIF, Dublin City University Business School, DCU, Ireland
Marta KAHANCOVA, Central European Labour Studies Institute, Slovakia
Aristea KOUKIADAKI, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
The recent economic crisis has accelerated the rise of non-standard employment forms and the decline of trade unions resources and capabilities in most EU countries. In this context, unions faced the dilemma of whether to focus their limited resources on improving working conditions for the majority of their members employed on a standard employment contract or on improving working conditions and social rights for the increasing number of precarious workers with non-standard employment forms (i.e. fixed-term contracts, self-employment and temporary agency work). This paper focuses on trade unions approaches to precarious workers, varying from inclusion to exclusion, in nine Eastern European countries (Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) and Greece, as an example of a country facing a significant economic crisis.

It is based on qualitative interviews with trade union officials conducted in 2015, focusing on developments since 2008 in the following sectors: construction, healthcare, metal, retail and temporary agency work. The preliminary findings confirm that there has been an overall increase in work precariousness, particularly by employing temporary agency workers, outsourcing and using part-time contracts as a disguise for full-time contracts to pay lower payroll taxes. Unlike in most old EU member states, one of the main causes of work precariousness in Eastern Europe is the low wage for employees on standard full-time contracts, which is also the case in Greece. Trade unions’ approaches to precarious workers varied both across countries and across sectors within each country, ranging from unions’ organizing temporary agency workers to exclusion of precarious workers. The paper identifies and discusses the rationale for the selected unions’ approaches to precarious work, the instruments used to fight against it and the implications of those approaches for unions.