Employment Regulation After the Demise of the Standard Employment Contract

Awarded Scholars:
Harry Arthurs, New York University
Project Date:
Nov 2010
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work

During the latter half of the twentieth century, most industrialized countries developed extensive labor laws that guaranteed workers a measure of job security, the right to bargain collectively, and a number of social benefits, such as unemployment insurance, paid vacation, and parental leave. In some cases, benefits and protections were provided directly by the government, and in others employers were required by law to provide these benefits.  These systems of labor regulation revolved centrally around the standard employment contract, which guaranteed employment of unlimited duration, with benefits, pathways to promotion, incremental raises, and dependable social insurance. In recent years, however, changes in the global economy have resulted in an erosion of this model of employment and regulation. Advances in technology and the increasing globalization of production and markets have led employers to value flexibility in their workforce over the stability provided by the standard employment contract. Many countries have repealed labor laws, relaxed employee protections, and reduced state-provided benefits. The effect of these developments has been flat or declining real wages for workers, reduced social protection, and a diminished capacity to defend their own interests through collective action. As a result of this decline in job quality, many countries are now reconsidering their labor regulatory frameworks.
These transitions provide an opportunity for new ideas and approaches to labor regulation. This award from the Foundation will enable Katherine Stone (University of California) and Harry Arthurs (New York University) to hold a conference and produce an edited volume that collects, compares, and evaluates the innovative policy experiments now underway in many developed countries. During the conference, participants will present papers discussing topics such as the new employment contracts, models of so-called flexicurity, new approaches to retirement security, social insurance and collective bargaining, and legal transplantation of employment laws. 


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