The debate centres over whether the effects of globalization have played a significant role in constraining the ability of ‘national actors’ to influence the employment relations policies in a controlled and measured way on a national scale. ‘National actors’ refers to the three main bodies which have traditionally influenced employment relations and work policies: Capital (business, employers); the State (employment legislature, government departments and the judiciary of the Republic of Ireland) and Labour (employees, trade unions).
Traditionally it has been the role of the government, trade unions and employers to negotiate work policies and debate national employment relations. ‘Globalists’ argue that the dawn of globalization has led to a diminished role for these national actors in deciding national work practices, being replaced instead by multinational corporations and the effects of decisions by more powerful international forces such as the G7 (Hirst & Thompson, 2003, p. 42).
‘Globalists’ argue the diminishing role of the trade union in Ireland (62% membership in 1980 to 31% in 2007) is as a result of both the increasing multinational sector which has imported an American style of labour relations to Ireland and the drastic change in the balance of power between capital and labour caused by a shift in location of production, this has allowed for the adoption of a new strategy for labour control.
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Through the vast improvements in communication and transport technologies, employers have become more effective at using the threat of moving production as a means of controlling pay, benefits and labour grievances taking control from the hand of the traditional national actors (McDonough, 2012, p. 3).
‘Sceptics’ view globalization as an unsustainable trend, they argue that the current state of international interconnectedness is not unprecedented such as the ‘belle epoque’ era in which there was a period of unprecedented international cooperation, trade and culture.
However they point to the fact that ‘all previous episodes of integration have generated a backlash and have ended in the regression of international trade and investment’ (Hirst & Thompson, 1999, p. 17).
‘Sceptics’ believe that the national actors still wield the majority of power in influencing national work policies and employment relations.
The ‘Croke Park Agreement’ which reduced the number of public sector layoffs and further pay cuts in exchange for no industrial action and employee cooperation on increased efficiency and flexibility is an example of the continued influence of the national actors on influencing national work policies. Although the influence of the labour trade unions has waned over the last number of decades they have still managed to leverage power through Ireland’s social partnership model (McDonough, 2012).
As this model works off a negotiation partnership forum they have been able to retain an equal share of power allowing them to broker wages and working conditions instead of the global neo-liberal tendency to leave the determination of wages and working conditions to the market. In Conclusion the evidence of an increasingly globalized world is clear. However the role played by national actors in determining employment relations and work policies is still up for discussion.
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