One flexible future for Europe? : the case of European convergence and/or divergence in the light of the flexibility debate
This Thesis examines recent trends in flexible forms of employment and how those forms of employment influence and at the same time are influenced by the economic, structural and regulatory environments in the different countries of the European Union, as well as their diverse labour market regimes. Those interactions are used as the basis for an analysis of the likelihood of convergence or divergence in European ways of work organisation; and for a consideration of how much influence decision makers are capable of exercising on this process. The Thesisis divided into four parts. The first part starts by discussing theories of societal development, presenting a model of firms flexibility, and deals with methodological issues involved in relating firms strategies with national employment environments. The second part examines the characteristics of the various European labour markets using data from the European Labour Force Survey (ELFS, 1984 - 1994) and the New Forms of Work and Activity Survey (NFWA, 1989/90). Firm specific data from the NFWAis used to explain variance in firms use of new forms of employment with other firm features. The study argues that European labour markets are still distinct and that differences in the usage patterns and meaning of new forms of employment can not be explained by firm characteristics alone; differences in national labour market regimes have also to be considered. The third part relates the findings of the previous part to the national employment systems and compares various aspects of the findings in three sample countries (Spain, United Kingdom and Germany). It shows that the various systems function in different manners, and possess competitive advantages / disadvantages in different areas. Conditions needed for one system to work are distinct from those needed for the other systems. Interchanging some features known from other systems to increase for example flexibility in the short run, might have effects contrary to those sought and might destroy a system's foundations in the long run. The fourth part looks into possible converging / diverging trends in European ways of work organisation, given the different starting positions. The evidence presented suggest that in the short term gains can be made through a cost cutting strategy, however this will make in the long run the creation of the wanted high trust, high wage, high quality economy in Europe even more difficult. To overcome short term thinking, which could bring about a convergence towards a economy competing only on costs, co-ordination on a supranational level is needed. As the situation of the national systems is still distinct, decision making on this level is increasingly prone to gridlock. However, recent developments on the company level towards transnational information and work councils on a European level might have important effects, even when such arrangements still lag behind the swift developments towards economic and monetary union.