Employment Relations & Rights in the Global Automotive Industry

By Lansbury, Russell D.; Wailes, Nick | Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Employment Relations & Rights in the Global Automotive Industry


Lansbury, Russell D., Wailes, Nick, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations


Introduction

Changes in the international economy that are commonly referred to as globalization have consequences for national patterns of employment relations. There are, however, competing views about globalization's significance and the types of changes it is likely to produce. Some have argued that globalization produces convergence in labour standards across countries and regions, while others have suggested that the pressures associated with globalization are refracted through national level institutional arrangements, resulting in continued diversity. However, empirical studies of comparative changes in employment relations provide little support for either of these views revealing a complex pattern of both continuity and change across countries (Lansbury et al. 2007).

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has the potential to play a more significant and effective role in mediating the effects of globalisation on employment relations in the automotive industry by seeking to ensure that its Conventions and Recommendations on employment rights are implemented by its member countries. An example is the ILO's Employment Relationship Recommendation (R198) which was adopted in 2006. This Recommendation urges members to formulate and apply a national policy which will 'guarantee effective protection for workers who perform work in the context of an employment relationship'. The Recommendation notes that any national policy on the employment relationship should be in accordance with national law and formulated in consultation with the most representative organisations of employees and workers. The Recommendation further urges members 'to promote the role of collective bargaining and social dialogue as a means, among other things, of finding solutions to questions related to the scope of the employment relationship at the national level'. It should be noted that this Recommendation was passed with the broad-based support of governments and workers' organisations but with less support from employers' bodies.

Recent institutionalist scholarship has gone beyond the focus on single institutions and begun to examine the complementarities between institutions. The most influential of these theories of capitalist diversity, known as the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC), suggests that the impact of globalisation on employment relations varies systematically across different types of market economies. This paper uses evidence from a seven country study of employment relations in the automobile assembly industry to examine the usefulness of the VoC approach to the comparative study of employment relations.

This paper is structured as follows. The first section briefly reviews the main features of the VoC approach and some of the criticisms that have been levelled against this approach. The second section outlines the research design and the methodology of the global automobile project. The third section outlines some preliminary findings from the research project. The paper concludes by arguing that while there is some evidence that globalisation has differential affects employment relations in the auto-assembly industry across varieties of capitalism, there is also evidence that other factors also play an important role in shaping this relationship and argues that the VoC approach needs to be modified to take these factors into account. There is also the potential for international agencies, such as the ILO, to play a role in mediating the effects of globalisation on employment relations in the automotive industry.

The Varieties of Capitalism Approach

Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of theories of capitalist diversity designed to explain persistent differences across market economies (see Crouch 2005, Deeg & Jackson 2007). Arguably the most influential of these is Hall and Soskice's (2001) Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach. As Howell (2003:103) notes "the varieties of capitalism approach [has] achieved a level of theoretical sophistication, explanatory scope and predictive ambition that has rapidly made it close to hegemonic in the field. …

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