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More voice after more exit? Unstable industrial relations in Central Eastern Europe

Guglielmo Meardi

 Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 38, 6, 503-523


 The article examines the industrial relations developments in the post-communist countries that entered the EU in 2004. Rather than introducing the 'European Social Model', EU accession has led to some social tensions, in spite of relatively strong economic growth, because of deregulation, European Monetary Union conditions and the enduring need to compete for foreign investment. EU institutional promotion of social dialogue through the Directive on Information and Consultation of Workers, sector social dialogue committees and the European Employment Strategy has only had limited effects in increasing the 'voice' of employees in employment relations. National-level social dialogue has produced poor results and has even been weakened in Slovenia (where it was originally strong) and, initially, in Slovakia. The lack of 'voice' for employees has led to increased 'exit' through political populism/abstention and migration. A double paradox emerges. Pro-labour policies are being developed not by the EU, but rather by its opposite, Euro-sceptical governments (in Poland and Slovakia), while in the workplaces, employers are forced to concessions not by their employees, but by those who leave and cause labour shortages. However, there is also some evidence of a resurgent 'voice' from below, through strikes, organising campaigns, informal collective protests and collective bargaining innovations. Drawing on both theory and history of industrial relations, it is concluded that some preconditions for more stable social compromises including more 'voice' are emerging.