More than we bargain for

Learning from new debates on how institutions can improve worker pay and security in Anglo-Saxon economies

The UK labour market has performed strongly in recent years. Employment is at record highs, and a tight labour market is finally delivering robust levels of real pay growth. But, despite being in a relatively late stage of the cycle, weaknesses in our labour market relating to job quality – including training, progression, stress and work intensity – remain. These issues are difficult to tackle just through changes to individual employment rights – which are the primary focus of policy reform and political debate in the UK today.

Focus on statutory minimums, like the speed of uprating of the National Living Wage, has meant that changes to collective rights, and the potential impact of other changes such as the introduction of new institutions in certain sectors aimed at raising labour market standards, have barely featured in our debate. As things stand it seems they are unlikely to feature heavily in the upcoming general election campaign either.

However, in other Anglo-Saxon economies – also characterised by high levels of employment and concerns about insecure work – there has been significant innovation in policy or shifts in public debate. This note seeks to build a fuller understanding of the experiences of these other countries in order to help broaden the UK debate and re-orientate our discussion towards the sorts of wider institutional reforms that might help raise job quality across the board.