Labour Regulation and Historical Socio-Economic Context: The UK and France
Posted: 13 May 2021
Date Written: September 9, 2014
Labour regulation is a complex and ever changing area of the law fed by social and economic policy, politics, external and internal pressures, and cultural influences. In isolation, labour regulation is particular to the country in which it is found. However, in a world growing smaller due to a global marketplace, the differences in labour regulation between jurisdictions can become an issue in cross border business transactions and may even affect a multi-national company’s choice of investment or divestment. The flexibility or inflexibility of labour regulation affects the attractiveness of a jurisdiction, as evidenced by the outsourcing of labour intensive sectors of many corporations to developing countries which lack the expense of protective labour regulation and benefit from a cheaper labour force. Law among the Member States of the EU has been in a process of slow convergence since the 1950s. However, if one deconstructs and reconstructs legal systems with a view to determining their core similarities, some exhibit areas of convergence while other aspects remain quite different. Even when one compares those systems which are significantly similar, there remain distinctive characteristics which distinguish one from another. There are differences that seem irreconcilable even within legal groups such as those common law or civil law systems. While certain rules and solutions may seem alike, legal cultures and traditions can differ significantly, leading to fundamental differences in approach to regulation and policy initiatives. These differences in approach are influenced by aspects of culture and history which cannot easily be separated from the legislative process. Convergence therefore becomes more difficult with culture bound areas of the law, such as labour and employment. EU social policy initiatives have aimed to harmonise standards based initially on a minimum floor of rights to a level which is more reflective of what is present in more socially progressive countries, such as France. However, lack of concrete EU wide definitions have made any coordination in social policy difficult. Though similar terms to describe elements of procedure may be used, the ideologies and policies informing the objectives of those procedures result in an asynchronous meaning, creating a barrier to mutual understanding and an obstacle to coordinated action. The question remains then as to how it may be possible to find a means of coordinating the law in order to create a more balanced environment for cross border business. In discovering the influences on the aims of socially oriented regulation, it may be possible to identify areas where coordination and perhaps convergence may be realistically attempted and to work around those areas in which the different social aims make such convergence impossible or at least improbable in the near future. In order to even attempt an alignment of labour systems in the EU, which of itself is a potentially unrealistic suggestion, at least in the current political climate, an understanding of the fundamental values which have influenced a country’s approach labour law is vital. Any EU level coordination would require diplomacy and compromise, a full knowledge and understanding of the elements of the systems being the most important tool to guide any such process. To this end, an analysis of the historical context of labour regulation and the working classes will reveal much about the fundamental values upon which labour systems and employment regulation are based and the differences between them. A typically top down technical analysis would only expose a positivist view of the law, isolated from its constituent parts without which it would not exist in its current form. The comparative perspective such as will be presented is not only useful for the importation of solutions but also for the discovery of other questions which may help find alternatives. This unique methodology could then be relied upon as a means finding a path to greater coordination by attempting to align systemic values. For the purpose of this paper, the UK and France will be compared in order to establish a baseline of differences. The UK and France provide examples of two extremes of current systems of labour law, but are also two of the most powerful and influential countries within the EU, thus providing a sound starting point from which to draw further comparisons in later research.
Keywords: Comparative Law, Social Policy, Employment Law, Legal History, Insolvency Law, Convergence, Harmonisation
JEL Classification: G3, J8
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation