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Work on Demand: Contracting for Work in a Changing Economy

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - WorkOD (Work on Demand: Contracting for Work in a Changing Economy)

Reporting period: 2022-07-01 to 2023-12-31

- What is the problem/issue being addressed?

Work on Demand was motivated by an interest, empirical and normative, in the continued viability of systems of labour law that are broadly speaking protective of workers’ interests. Such systems typically aim to ensure a set of at least minimum terms and conditions and, at a societal level, some measure of wage and income equality. For several decades, the continued existence of protective labour laws – together with institutions designed to allow for the collective interest representation of workers and collective regulation of working relationships – had been threatened as a result of myriad pressures associated with globalization and deindustrialization. Since the economic crisis of 2008, and consequent ushering in of an age of austerity, the threat had intensified. When the WorkOD project began, concern regarding the weakening of labour standards and the dismantling of collective representative and regulatory institutions was widely shared by scholars in the field of labour law. Across Europe, and beyond, the dominant discourse was one of crisis in the discipline: old ways of thinking about the subject, of describing and analysing it, had seemed increasingly inadequate, but new ways were yet to be found.

- Why is it important for society?

The consequences for individuals and societies as a whole of the weakening of labour rights and protections are strongly contested but there is evidence to suggest that this has contributed to a widening of the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in our societies. Wealth inequalities and economic insecurity have been linked, meanwhile, to resurgent nationalism and the growing popularity of extremist political parties in several European states and elsewhere.

- What are the overall objectives?

The project aimed:
i. To develop a new research methodology appropriate to the study of contracting for work understood as an example of private ordering that is shaped directly and indirectly by the complex of applicable legal rules and institutions and by other aspects of the social and economic context.
ii. Through the development of this new research methodology, to identify also a new paradigm for labour law as a field of scholarship.
iii. Using the new research methodology, to explain trends in the field including, in particular, the increased use of forms of contract which are designed to shift the burden of risk from the employer to the worker, including those typical of task- or ‘gig’-based work in the on-demand economy.
iv. In light of the changing nature of contracting for work so explained, to assess the significance of particular laws and labour market institutions as mechanisms for the protection of workers’ interests and the achievement of a variety of public policy goals.
In furtherance of the research objectives, research was carried out into (i) the empirical effects of employment law in hospitality and catering, platform work, and human resource management; (ii) the strategizing of trade unions and how this is shaped by the applicable law, among other things; (iii) changing ideas over time regarding the appropriate policy aims of labour law and labour market institutions and how these have been shaped by the changing political economy.

Main Results Achieved:

(i) In fulfilment of the first research objective, more than ten papers were published including:
- R Dukes (2019) Journal of Law and Society 46(3): 396-422
- R Dukes and E Kirk (2021) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 72(4): 741-770
- G Ioannou (2021) Industrial Law Journal 50(4): 558-582

(ii) In fulfilment of the second research objective, the following were published:
- R Dukes and W Streeck (2020) MPIFG working paper
- R Dukes and W Streeck (2020) Journal of Law and Society, 47(4), pp. 612-638.
- R Dukes and W Streeck (2021) In P. C. M. van Seters (ed) Anthem Companion to Philip Selznick. Anthem Press

(ii) In fulfilment of the third research objective, more than ten papers were published including:
- A Bertolini and R Dukes (2021) Industrial Law Journal 50(4): 662-688
- G Ioannou (2023) Economic and Industrial Democracy, early online publication
- R Dukes and W Streeck (2023) Journal of Law and Society 50(2): 165-184
- R Dukes and E Kirk (2023) Social & Legal Studies, early online publication

(iv) In fulfilment of the final objective, several papers were published including:
- G Ioannou and R Dukes (2021) 52(3): 255-269
- E Kirk (2021) Industrial Law Journal 50(4): 583-609
- O Lin (2021) Industrial Law Journal 51(2): 435–463
It is above all the methodological ambitions of the WorkOD project which take the research substantially beyond the state of the art. In 2019, a landmark paper (Dukes) advanced beyond the state of the art by arguing for a new approach to the study of labour law, which it called an economic sociology of law. While remaining with the ‘labour law tradition’, this new approach was argued to offer much greater potential for understanding and analysing ongoing changes in working relationships which make the contract (rather than statutory rules and collective bargaining) central to the field. By relating advances in sociology and social theory to the field of labour law, the paper made a substantial contribution to both the fields of labour law and sociology of law.
Much of the work of the WorkOD team was aimed at refining this ‘economic sociology of labour law’ and applying it in different contexts. For example, two papers co-authored by Dukes and Kirk (2021, 2024) and a review article by Kirk (2020) each further developed the proposed approach by considering the usefulness to it of the study of actors' legal consciousness. Ioannou (2021) considered its application to hospitality and catering in Greece and introduces the idea of the importance of location and community to understanding the empirical effects of law.
Three papers written by the PI with Wolfgang Streeck (2020a, 2020b, 2021) went beyond the state of the art in their identification of a new paradigm for labour law as a field of scholarship. Together they argued for a recentring of the value of democracy at the heart of labour law and for a renewed interest in social norms and their influence on legal rules.
Through its application of the economic sociology of labour law approach, Work on Demand has also made very significant contributions when it comes to explaining trends in the field of work relations and labour law and to assessing the significance of particular laws and labour market institutions as mechanisms for the protection of workers' interests. Two landmark papers (Bertolini and Dukes 2021; Dukes and Kirk 2023) focused on the role of trade unions in this respect, progressing beyond the state of the art in their analysis of that role and of the meaning of strategic litigation for workers and trade unions.
Work on Demand Team