In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe

  • Introduction
  • Online Resources
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Gender Equality and Employment Relations

Political Science Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
Damian Grimshaw, Miguel Martinez Lucio, Stefania Marino, Stephen Mustchin, Jill Rubery
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0217


The field of comparative industrial relations (CIR) has advanced considerably since the early monographs of the 1970s, which sought to develop theories of trade unionism and industrial democracy through country comparison. Today’s research covers a wide range of issues, reflecting the diverse and changing conditions that shape the employment relationship in different countries in a context of internationalization of markets and business. It shares theoretical foundations with the field of industrial relations, particularly its disciplinary eclecticism, its analytical focus on social actors (employers, unions, governments, as well as civil society bodies, international agencies, and others), and its overriding concern to understand societal change through processes of conflict, contradiction, uncertainty, and negotiation. The field of CIR is nevertheless distinctive through elaborating a comparative, institutionalist lens to the focus of inquiry. CIR thus extends the scope of industrial relations by revealing stark cross-country differences in the strategies and structures of employers and trade unions, as well as in governments’ approaches toward industrial relations issues. Alongside a core focus on issues of governance, CIR illuminates the causes of cross-country differences in economic performance, working conditions, and employment inequalities through interrogation of a country’s industrial relations institutions and the social and economic conditions that frame these institutions. It therefore serves as an especially valuable counterweight both to mainstream economics (with its universalist assumptions about how labor markets work) and political science (with its focus on partisan differences). Comparisons of country systems of industrial relations within the region of Europe necessarily involve further consideration of the character and consequences of European integration, including European Union (EU) policy coordination, employment legislation, and economic and monetary union. Overall, CIR in Europe serves as a useful analytical framework for investigating major issues of contemporary debate in different countries, such as women’s position in employment, the status of precarious work, the role of the state in regulating work and promoting social dialogue, the implications of Brexit, convergence of country models of employment relations, unions’ capacities to mobilize migrant workers, and many others.

Online Resources

There are many valuable online resources for the field of CIR in Europe, which are increasingly relied upon in analysis of changing patterns and trends both by academics and practitioners. Here we list a small sample to provide a flavor of the kinds of quality data available, but there are many, many more resources to select from.

  • Collective Bargaining Newsletter.

    The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has joined forces with the Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Labour studies to produce these extremely useful monthly newsletters on collective bargaining developments across Europe.

  • Database on Countries’ Industrial Relations Characteristics.

    European industrial relations research has benefitted enormously from this widely used online database, freely accessible to everyone. Founded by Jelle Visser and hosted at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, the ICTWSS database covers the “Institutional Characteristics of Trade Unions, Wage Setting, State Intervention and Social Pacts” in fifty-one countries with data since 1960 for many of the thirty-one European countries (all twenty-eight EU member states plus Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland).

  • Dictionary of European industrial relations terms.

    Eurofound, a tripartite agency of the EU with a great track record of producing high-quality research, has been developing an online dictionary of European industrial relations terms since 2007. It now lists more than 350 terms and is a fantastic resource.

  • European Observatory of Working Life.

    Eurofound also compiles listings of current issues, articles, and comparative reports on European industrial relations themes, including pay, working time, collective bargaining, and other topics. Until 2014 this was known as EIRO (European Industrial Relations Observatory) online. It has since been consolidated with its working conditions observatory to form a single website.

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