Beyond National Systems: Towards a Multi-Scalar Theoretical Framework of Internationally Comparative Employment Relations

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
255 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Chris F. Wright, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Greg Bamber, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Nick Wailes, UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia
Russell Lansbury, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Several authors have used the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) framework (Hall & Soskice, 2001) as a starting point for comparing national employment relations systems (e.g. Bamber et al., 2016; Frege & Kelly, 2013). However, others who identify similar trends among national systems commonly assumed to have distinct characteristics have questioned this framework’s analytical utility (e.g. Baccaro & Howell, 2011; Gautie & Schmitt, 2010). This paper reassesses the VoC framework in the context of recent employment relations developments at the industry, national and transnational levels. It focuses on outcomes relating to the trajectory of continuity and change within and between national systems, particularly with respect to the incidence of standard versus non-standard employment relationships, the patterns of employer coordination, and the prevalence of outsourcing and organisational fragmentation.

Building upon earlier critiques, the paper identifies deficiencies within the VoC framework, especially its focus on national systems. Such a focus is less warranted than Hall and Soskice had envisaged due to the increased importance of complex production networks among multinational enterprises that can influence employment relations outcomes across national boundaries. However, we conclude that the VoC framework is still a useful starting point in terms of the distinction made between coordinated versus liberal systems of employment relations regulation. Rather than maintaining a focus on national systems as the predominant determinant of employment relations outcomes, our framework acknowledges the influence of industries and production systems with distinct regulatory dynamics that are relatively autonomous, but not completely separable from national systems (Bechter et al., 2012; Lakhani et al., 2013; Rainnie et al., 2011). We argue that the notions of path dependency (Streeck & Thelen, 2005; Thelen, 2014) and dominance effects (Edwards et al., 2013; Pudelko & Harzing, 2007; Smith & Meiksins, 1995) can help to explain the circumstances in which liberal or coordinated systems of employment relations regulation prevail in a given nation, industry or production system, while variegated capitalism (Peck & Theodore, 2007) can be used to provide a dynamic analysis of how interrelated employment relations systems operating at these different scales change over time.

The argument presented is based on evidence from recent developments in more than a dozen national systems – including liberal, coordinated and emerging market economies – as well as drawing on original research from the airlines, automotive and clothing industries. This paper aims to develop an internationally comparative approach that goes beyond simple models and that is capable of capturing a broader range of factors that reflect the connections between and within national systems that shape employment relations outcomes.