Watch: 2023 Joe Isaac Industrial Relations Symposium

Dr Martin Behrens presented the 2023 Joe Isaac Industrial Relations Symposium at the Woodward Conference Centre, University of Melbourne, on Thursday, September 7, 2023.

The ties that (don’t) bind: Complementary institutions within Germany’s ‘dual system’ of Industrial relations

German industrial relations (IR) have long been considered exemplary for successfully combining economic competitiveness with elements of social justice and high levels of worker participation. This model of IR is underpinned by the so-called ‘dual system’ of labour representation, which combines multi-employer collective bargaining at the industry level with workers' participation at the establishment level through works councils. While collective bargaining is the responsibility of unions and employers’ associations, works councils represent a ‘quasi-public institution’ as they are elected by the entire workforce irrespective of union membership.

In this presentation, Dr. Martin Behrens investigates two seemingly contradictory trends in German IR. On the one hand, coverage by major institutions such as collective bargaining and works councils has declined since the early 1990s. On the other hand, employers have relied heavily on these representative institutions at times of severe crisis, including the Global Financial Crisis (2008) and the Covid-19 Pandemic (2020-22).

These developments raise important questions about the state and future of IR ‘made in Germany’: What is driving the institutional decline in collective bargaining and workers’ voices in Germany? What explains employer ambivalence to worker representation? What are possible strategies for stabilising and revitalising Germany’s IR institutions?

About the speaker

Dr Martin Behrens is a senior researcher at the Institute for Economic and Social Research (WSI) of the Hans-Boeckler Foundation, Germany. He also teaches Sociology at the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf and currently serves as the deputy president of the Works Council at the Hans-Böckler-Foundation.

Dr Behrens was educated at the University of Göttingen (Master’s) and at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University (Doctorate). He was awarded his habilitation (postdoctoral professorial qualification) by the University of Göttingen in 2010. Between 2011 and 2020, he was Co-Editor of Industrielle Beziehungen (The German Journal of Industrial Relations) and served as a member of the executive committee of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association from 2015-21.

He has published widely in leading international journals in work, human resource management, and industrial relations, including the British Journal of Industrial Relations, ILR Review, Industrial Relations, Socio-Economic Review, Comparative European Politics, and the Human Resource Management Journal. His current research interests include employee voice, trade union strategies, employers’ associations, and conflict management at the workplace.

Martin Behrens and Peter Gahan

L-R: Dr Martin Behrens and Professor Peter Gahan, Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning), Faculty of Business and Economics