Collective bargaining does not only improve workers’ wages and conditions. It also enhances company performance.
The socio-economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic posed three key threats to the world of work: to the quality as well as the quantity of employment and to the most vulnerable groups. To minimise this threat, the International Labour Organization called for appropriate measures, emerging from social dialogue, to secure business restructuring and sustain jobs. The ILO’s concern was reflected in various investigations identifying how precariousness, inequality, insecurity and exclusion had been aggravated by the Covid-19 crisis.
The management of that crisis foregrounded the importance of the real economy, making it clear meanwhile that some ‘essential jobs’ were poorly paid and precarious. The impacts of the pandemic on working conditions especially affected women, young people and those in temporary and low-skilled jobs. Poverty and inequality increased in societies around the world.
In Spain at that time, agreements reached through social dialogue allowed millions of jobs to be saved, through instruments such as short-term layoff schemes (ERTE). Despite their usefulness, however, the ERTE were a one-off instrument, heralding what should be new models of management with the care of workers at their centre.
Companies cannot be exempt from their duty of care towards their employees. Economic actors cannot demand higher commitment and job performance without offering greater wellbeing at work and giving up practices that increase job insecurity.
The idea of workplace wellbeing is currently largely based on the notion of social exchange and mutual gains underlying the employment relationship. But one can delve deeper to explore how collective bargaining and human-resource management can positively affect wellbeing and the employment relationship. And work environments focused on the needs and expectations of workers have in recent years received attention from some companies and many researchers.
Quality of life at work depends on the participation of employees at all levels of the hierarchy—in the configuration of work environments with favourable psychosocial conditions, in organisational processes and methods and vis-à-vis the goals of the organisation. Ultimately, such involvement will have a positive impact on employee commitment and performance.
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Here collective bargaining—one of the central institutions for regulating the labour market—comes into play. In the Spanish labour-relations system, the working conditions of most workers are regulated within this framework. Data published by the Ministry of Labour and the Social Economy indicate that in 2022 (provisionally) 3,950 registered collective agreements regulated the working conditions of 11.6 million workers and affected a total of 1.2 million companies.
Collective bargaining plays a leading role in improving workers’ wellbeing while reducing job insecurity. Yet despite the significance it has for the lives of workers, there is little research on how it addresses their needs and expectations, as distinct from its impacts on productivity and business competitiveness.
The Collective Bargaining Survey, directed by the May 1st Foundation of the CCOO trade-union confederation and co-ordinated by the universities of León and Córdoba, aims to fill that gap. This study, using a quantitative methodology based on an online survey of 1,600 workers living in Spain, investigates the effects of collective bargaining on wellbeing and job security—and in turn on commitment and performance.
The main conclusion is that collective bargaining is an essential element for workers to see an improvement in their wellbeing at work and a reduction in their precariousness. This enhanced wellbeing and reduced insecurity come with an increase in their commitment to their company. This highlights the clear relationship between collective negotiation and job performance.
The study addresses, among other findings, concerns that are both relevant and worrying in relation to the perception workers have of collective negotiation, wellbeing and precariousness. So 54.7 per cent of respondents consider that collective agreements improve equality between women and men in the company, 53.3 per cent believe collective bargaining positively affects occupational health and safety and 52.3 per cent consider that it improves their working conditions.
Yet 49 per cent believe that they cannot negotiate their working conditions, while almost one in four workers is afraid of retaliation if they join a union. At the same time, 28.1 per cent consider that their job does not provide them with enough income, 32.2 per cent say they suffer from long working hours and 34.8 per cent feel they do not have options for promotion.
Although 55 per cent are satisfied with their wellbeing at work, 55.3 per cent feel their work makes them mentally and emotionally exhausted, and 44.3 per cent feel It causes such states of mind as irritability, sadness, tension or nervousness. A significant portion, 30 per cent, claim to have difficulties relaxing after work, while 36.8 per cent recognise how work interferes with their private life. And, focusing on women specifically, the research shows, once again, that they enjoy fewer labour rights, suffer especially long hours and yet are also prone to underemployment.
The results of this research can contribute to advancing the reform and development of the regulatory framework of labour relations and, within that, collective bargaining. This become more pressing when, because of the Covid-19 crisis and the digitalisation of economic relations, the transformation of the world of work and labour relations is accelerating.
As the research reveals, through improved wellbeing at work, reduced precariousness and so enhanced commitment by workers, collective bargaining is the foundation of better business performance. Dialogue and co-operation between companies and workers’ representatives can translate into high-performance work practices which result in a balanced and fair distribution of the wealth generated.
As an institution of governance of labour relations, collective bargaining must be the starting point for a new pact or social contract, in which a socio-economic consensus is reached that companies must not pursue their needs and expectations at the expense of those of workers. On the contrary, an equilibrium must be arrived at between greater business performance and expansion and improvement of the rights and conditions of workers. Only in this way will collective bargaining drive and motivate change in an emancipatory direction, aligning itself with workers’ wellbeing.