Part One: Non-standard Workers in Comparative Perspective: Good Practices of Social Dialogue and Collective Bargaining

Some of the most valuable work in comparative labor relations is designed to broaden our awareness and understanding of best labor practices, particularly given the daunting challenges that neoliberal globalization has wrought on workers across the world.  A great example of this kind of work can be found in a working paper written by Minawa Ebisui, a Labour Law Officer at the International Labour Organization (ILO).   In 2012, Ebisui examined diverse examples of social dialogue and collective bargaining practices to improve working conditions and to increase the inclusion and voice on non-standard workers.  The paper was also published the E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies, Volume 1, No. 3-4 October-December 2012.

Non-standard work is an increasingly important issue. Globalization of trade and the spread of production chains in manufacturing have fundamentally changed work processes and employment arrangements around the world.  There has been a significant shift away from traditional standard work. In standard forms of work, a worker is employed full-time on a permanent basis and enjoys benefits such as sick and vacation time, health and safety and other legal protections and social security.  Further, such standard employment is in a direct employment relationship with the enterprise, which pays the workers wages and benefits and profits from the work.

Non-standard work does not have a universally accepted label and instead the term varies greatly by country, region, industry, etc.  In Ebisui’s work, non-standard work includes both formal employment relationships (part-time work, temp agency work, fixed-term work) and work that is performed outside formal employment relationships (informal work, commercial contracts, subcontracted work, economically dependent self-employment etc.)  Importantly, Ebisui also includes in his definition of non-standard work work in which the relationship with the employer is either disguised or unclear.

Before discussion of Ebisui’s examination of best practices (in part two), it is important to have an appreciation for the comparative prevalence of non-standard work around the world.  The Chart below is from a 2015 ILO Report, “World Employment Social Outlook: The Changing Nature of Jobs.”  The new report is based on data that covers 84% of total global employment and highlights the fact that overall only about one quarter of workers are employed on a permanent contract.  The report also highlights great disparities among countries with only 5.7% of workers in low-income countries having permanent contracts compared to about 75% in high-income countries.  Similarly own-account workers make up 9% of workers from high-income countries and 40% and 60% from middle and low-income countries respectively (ILO 2015 p. 30).

Workers are vulnerable to exploitation based on the characteristics of non-standard work including: lower wages, irregular income and hours, limited or non-existent protection by labor laws such as health and safety, little or no access to non-wage benefits, social security coverage, job training, promotions, trade union representation, collective bargaining and lack of alternative employment options (Ebisui 2012 p. 3).  In the second part of this post, Ebisiui’s examination of best practices to improve the working conditions and representation of non-standard workers will be discussed.

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2015 ‘ World Employment Social Outlook: The Changing Nature of Jobs’, available at:

Ebisui, M. (2012) ‘Non-standard workers: Good practices of social dialogue and collective bargaining’, International Labour Organization, Industrial and Employment Relations  Department, Geneva: International Labour Office,  available at: