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Labour Standards in the new EU member states: Convergence or Divergence?


This project continues a key theme of Charles Woolfson:s European Commission Marie Curie Chair Excellence Award (2004-2007) in the Baltic states i.e., labour standards, decent work in the form of regularised employment relations, access to training, and the character of the working environment in terms of occupational health and safety in the post-communist states. It explores the difficulties in securing regulated labour standards, as against ongoing counter-tendencies towards the informalisation of employment relations. It also asks how these labour standards are changing in the context of European Union enlargement and what empirical evidence there is of the integrative impacts of European directives and regulations on working life and work environment in the new member states ie., convergence or divergence.


Decent work agenda, European integration , Labour standards/rights, working environment, regulation


Labour standards are multifaceted and concern not only the regulatory environment and domestic and European levels but also matters of empirical evidence as to whether such standards are improving or deteriorating. The project examines these issues in the context of the new market economies, again using the example of the transformed societies, employment relations and working life in the Baltic states over the past two decades. First, in a number of co-authored studies of working environment policy and based on an empirical three country comparative employee survey, it is suggested that in important respects working environment conditions may not be meeting the expected improvements that could be anticipated to accompany European enlargement and integration of the former Soviet economies into the global economic order. It is suggested that European Union strategy in the area of working environment fails to take sufficient account of the specificity of the deteriorated working environment in post-communist societies with poor performance in terms of measurable indicators, and in particular, the low capacity of mandated workplace representatives to adequately monitor and participate in the management of workplace occupational safety and health. Lithuania would seem to present a worst case example in European terms, although previous studies suggest that Latvia has many similarities, particularly in terms of the weakness of regulatory agencies. The lack of effective regulatory oversight is the basis for further work on the informalisation of labour in these societies, whereby standard employment relationships are undermined by under-counter and undeclared wage payments which both erode labour standards and prevent proper social insurance payments being made on behalf of employees, to their ultimate detriment. This taken together with the reluctance of many employers to invest in the skills development of their workforces, it presents a major challenge to the improvement of working life and labour standards in general. Recent survey evidence suggests that such trends are continuing and the performance of the Baltic states overall rank in the lower segment of the European Union member states. In terms of broader harmonization of labour standards within the European Union these findings raise challenging issues of public policy, if anything heightened by the impacts of the global economic and financial crisis.


C. Woolfson and I. Vanadzins (2014) Historical and contemporary challenges to workplace health and safety practice in Latvia. Policy and Practice in Occupational Health and Safety, 12 (2): 47-65.

C. Woolfson and A. Juska (2014) Neoliberal Austerity and Corporate Crime: The collapse of the Maxima supermarket in Riga, Latvia, New Solutions: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health Policy, 24(2): 129-152.

C. Woolfson, (2011a) "Precarious work in times of crisis: Regulatory Discourses and Labour Standards", in M. Sargeant and M. Giovanone (eds) Health and Safety and Vulnerable Workers in a Changing World of Work, Farnham: Gower Publishing, (forthcoming).

C. Woolfson, (2011b) "Latvia: Lacking in Competence?" in J. Winterton and L. Magnusson (eds) Trade Union Strategies for Competence Development, London: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-55428-2 (forthcoming).

C. Woolfson, (2010) The sense of measure and societies without limit, discussant response to Alain Supiot, international workshop on Constitutionalising Employment Relations, Social & Legal Studies, 19, 2: 226-231.

C. Woolfson, D. Calite and E. Kallaste, (2009) Employee voice and working environment in the New Member States: Translating policy into practice in the Baltic States, in D. Walters and T. Nichols (eds) Workplace Health and Safety - International Perspectives on Worker Representation, London: Palgrave/Macmillan. pp. 134-153.

C. Woolfson and D. Calite, (2008) Working Environment in the new EU Member State of Lithuania: Examining a worst case example, Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 6, 1:.3-29.

C. Woolfson, D. Calite and E. Kallaste, (2008)"Employee voice and working environment in post-communist New Member States: An empirical analysis of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Industrial Relations Journal, 39, 4: 314-34.

C. Woolfson, (2008) European Briefing: Social Dialogue and Life-long learning in the new EU member states: reform fit in Latvia, Journal of European Social Policy, 18, 1: 79-87.

C. Woolfson, (2007) Pushing the envelope: The informalisation of labour in post-communist new EU Member States, Work, Employment and Society, 21, 3: 551-564.

C. Woolfson, (2007) The envelope scandal: A Lithuanian tale, International Union Rights, vol. 14, January,13-14.

C. Woolfson and D. Calite, (2007) New European Community strategy for health and safety: The elephant in the room, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 13, 2: 343-357.

Other Academic Output

Determinants of Occupational Health and Safety in Latvia, National Expert Country Report, Analysis of the determinants of workplace occupational safety and health practice in a selection of EU Member States, Contract No: OSHA/C/RO/2011/02, Report to European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Cardiff Centre for Working Environment Studies, (w"P

Chair, first Nordic/Scandinavian/Baltic international workshop of labour inspection and fiscal authority regulators on "Assessing the feasibility of establishing a common European platform to prevent and fight against undeclared work", Vilnius, May 18-19 2010, Regionplan/DG Employment.

Safety Crimes in the new EU member states, paper to international symposium Building Justice in European Transitions: Processes of Criminalisation within Newly Emerging Democratic Societies, University of Stirling, UK, 10-11 December 2009.

European Social Agenda, Workers Rights and OHS in an Enlarged EU: Irregular Migrants in the Informal Economy, paper to IMILCO International Migration, Informal Economy and Community in Europe, Istanbul, 13 December 2007.

Employee voice and working environment in post-communist New Member States: An empirical analysis of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Second International Seminar on Worker Representation and Workplace Health & Safety, Cardiff Work Environment Research Centre, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, 10 October 2007.

Labour Standards in the Baltic new Member States: European Convergence or Divergence? - An Empirical Analysis of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, 8th European Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association, IIRA 2007, Manchester 3 to 6 September 2007 (with Dace Calite and Epp Kallaste).

Labour Standards in the Baltic new Member States: European Convergence or Divergence? - An Empirical Analysis based on the Baltic Working Environment and Labour (BWEL) survey, Work Research Institute, Oslo Norway, 12 May 2007.

Written briefing to European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Hearing on the European Commission's Communication Improving quality and productivity at work: Community Strategy 2007-2012 on Health and Safety at Work (COM(2007)62), 27 June 2007 (with Dace Calite).

2007 - 2013


Linköpings universitet

REMESO Project Leader

Charles Woolfson, Professor Emeritus

Participants not from REMESO

  • Dace Calite, University of Ventspils and University of Latvia
  • Dr Epp Kallaste, Estonian Center for Applied Social Research, Tallinn, Estonia.
  • Dr Ivars Vanadzins, Institute of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, Latvia.

Contact for project


Last updated: 2015-08-22

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Last updated: 2020-05-27