Background to the series

The regulation of work and employment poses important questions for public policy-makers, organisations and the labour movement in the UK and around the world. Main concerns include the extent to which work and employment should be regulated or deregulated, and how such regulation should be developed and applied in practice. The regulation of work and employment also highlights a key strategic tension between economic concerns (e.g., competitiveness and productivity), and social concerns (e.g., worker rights, equality and social justice). Ultimately, it is often viewed as a potential means of reconciling these countervailing tensions.  However, the discussion about regulation is controversial at all levels.

At the national level, those who represent the interests of employers, such as the Institute of Directors (2010) and the British Chambers of Commerce (2011), often argue that a high degree of regulation may hinder job creation and discourage multinational enterprises from investing. It is argued that this leads them to countries with a lower degree of regulation.     

At the workplace level, managers may be keen to protect their prerogative regarding how to best manage businesses in order to remain sustainable in competitive global markets. However, certain forms of regulation may be welcomed by individual workers and their families as they see it as central to decent work, work-life balance, and health and safety (van Wanrooy et al., 2011; Sanséau and Smith, 2012).

At supranational and international levels, as regulatory processes continue to shift (Martinez Lucio and MacKenzie, 2004; Angel-Urdinola and Kuddo, 2010); it is fundamental to collectively address emerging contradictions. For instance, government discourses of liberalisation and deregulation at national level see their counterpart in the implementation of tight regulation regimes at supranational level.  However, regulation has led to contradictions at the organisational level, where the discursive promotion of labour market flexibility coexists alongside the practical implementation of a profound re-regulation of labour relations (Standing, 1997). Nonetheless, there is evidence (e.g., Germany) that employment protection and strong economic output can coexist (OECD, 2004).

The CIPD (2011:1) suggests that “the case for or against regulation should be analytically sound and assessed in relation to specific employment or workplace issues rather than pursued as a matter of ideology”. However, there is a disconnection between these different levels of analysis, as well as between policy and practice.  The series brings together leading international academic thinkers with key policy influencers in order to advance theory, employment policy and practice.