Research area

Wage policy, collective bargaining and industrial relations

Wage policy, collective bargaining policy and industrial relations have been the main fields of expertise in WSI research and public policy advice for decades. Trade unions, works councils and employers' associations are among the key players for the representation and implementation of employee interests. Research activities focus mainly on the interactions between these players. A panel survey among German works councils provides a unique empirical basis for analyses on the corporate and national level. The WSI Collective Agreement Archive is the major German information centre on developments concerning collectively agreed wages. Research on Germany is complemented by active participation in international networks of scholars investigating wage standards, industrial relations and trade union strategies and perspectives on the European and global level.

Main research topics

collective bargaining in Germany: documentation and analyses - trends in collective bargaining and perspectives of future stabilisation - collective bargaining in Europe und European governance - analyses on works and staff councils - trade unions: organisational problems and organisational action; trends in industrial action - the role of employers’ associations


WSI Collective Agreement Archive

As the DGB trade unions’ documentation centre, the WSI Collective Agreements Archive documents and evaluates ongoing collective bargaining. The Internet pages give information on the development of collective bargaining policy and the collective agreement provisions and benefits in over 50 sectors of the economy in West and East Germany. more...

BARSORIS (BARgaining for SOcial RIghts at Sectoral Level)

The project BARSORIS aims to conduct a comparative study of social partners’ experiences with improving the social rights of precarious/vulnerable workers through collective bargaining and social dialogue in seven EU countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom. In each of these countries, the challenges faced by the social partners in improving the quality of work through collective bargaining and social dialogue will be analysed by the research team. WSI has been part of the EU-financed project since 2013.

WSI Discussion Paper 197 (pdf)


WSI Minimum Wages Database

Data, graphs and an interactive map give an updated overview of the development and amount of minimum wages in the EU and selected OECD countries. more...

WSI Study 12, 05/2018

Upgrading German public services

Against the European trend, employment and working conditions in the German public sector have improved after the financial crisis. Our WSI study by Thorsten Schulten and Daniel Seikel shows that besides the quick economic recovery trade union strategies played an important role.

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International conference, Kiev 30.-31.03.2017

Minimum wages – A chance for redistribution and growth?

The Ukrainian parliament decided in Dezember 2016 to double the minimum wage, a decision followed by an intensive national debate: Who is profiting? What are the effects on the labour market? Reinhard Bispinck and Thorsten Schulten (WSI) gave an overview of minimum wages in Europe and their economic and social impact in Germany.

Minimum wages in Europe - a comparative overview (pdf)
Impact on employment and inequality in Germany (pdf)


Joint ETUI-WSI Workshop, 07./08.02.2017 Brussels

Living Wages in Europe

“All workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.” (European Social Charter) What can be done to promote the concept of living wage across Europe? Experts from several European countries discussed conceptual issues, the UK experience as the most advanced example of a national living wage movement, and future European perspectives.

Minimum and living wages in Europe (pdf)
full documentation


Ingrid Artus, Martin Behrens (WSI), Berndt Keller et al. (eds.)

Developments in German Industrial Relations

The book presents a comprehensive review of research in German industrial relations, analyzing the major developments and changes in the real world of the German model and its major institutions, namely the DGB trade unions and co-determination on the establishment-level. In addition, the authors (among them, Heiner Dribbusch and Martin Behrens, WSI) discuss the contributions of neighbouring disciplines, particularly human resource management, economics, and labour law.

more ...

ETUI International Conference, 27.06.2016 Brussels

Digitalisation and Collective Bargaining

The process of digitalisation has far-reaching consequences for the organisation of work and requires new form of labour protection. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) discusses the challenges for collective bargaining in negotiating the new world of work.

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ETUI Policy Brief 04/2016

Extension of collective agreements

If collective bargaining is to continue to be a distinctive feature of European labour market regulation, many countries need to reconstruct their bargaining systems to make sure that a majority of workers will again be covered by collective agreements. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) presents the current national procedures and discusses the meaning of extension for the stability of collective bargaining in Europe.

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International Workshop, University of Bielefeld

Labour Clauses in Public Procurement

At an international workshop on „Socially Sustainable Public Procurement” organised by the University of Bielefeld on 8-9 April 2016, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) gave a lecture on the use of pay and labour clauses in European and German Public procurement.

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Foto: Fotolia

WSI Collective Bargaining Report Germany 2015

Collective bargaining in 2015 was characterised by a number of hard-fought industrial disputes. Although the 2015 bargaining round resulted in lower nominal pay increases than the previous year, the very low rate of consumer price inflation led to a real increase in agreed pay of 2.4%.

Annual Report (pdf)

British Journal of Industrial Relations

The Foundations of Social Partnership

Social partnership between capital and labour is a distinctive characteristic of German industrial relations. Based on a survey of 142 German employers’ associations, Martin Behrens (WSI) and Markus Helfen (FU Berlin) investigate differences in their support for partnership with unions. The authors find that organizational characteristics (e.g. membership density) as well as positive experiences with their union counterparts explain why employers’ associations adhere to the norms of social partnership.

more ...

The Future of Greek Collective Bargaining

Opportunities for a Restoration?

Under the first two Memorandums, Greece had to commit itself to a radical restructuring of its collective bargaining system. In particular, non-trade union representations of employees were permitted, extensions of collective agreements were prohibited and the favourability principle with regard to the hierarchy of collective bargaining levels was abolished. Dr. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) evaluates recent changes and future prospects of Greek collective bargaining.

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Guy van Gyes (KU Leuven) and Thorsten Schulten (WSI) (eds.)

Wage bargaining under the new European Economic Governance

Within the framework of the new European economic governance, neoliberal views on wages have further increased in prominence and have steered various reforms of collective bargaining rules. This book proposes an alternative: Wage developments need to be strengthened through a Europe-wide coordinated reconstruction of collective bargaining as a precondition for more sustainable and inclusive growth.

information and download


Torsten Müller (ETUI) and Thorsten Schulten (WSI)

The public-private sector pay debate in Europe

Using comparative studies and new statistical data, the paper demonstrates  that driving down public sector wages is not the right recipe to get out of the crisis and underlines the need for a strong public sector to boost aggregate demand and provide a modern public infrastructure as major precondition for a competitive economy.

etui working paper 2015.08


Maarten van Klaveren, Denis Gregory, Thorsten Schulten (eds.)

Minimum Wages, Collective Bargaining and Economic Development in Asia and Europe: A Labour Perspective

The volume offers a labour perspective on wage-setting institutions, collective bargaining and economic development. Sixteen country chapters, eight on Asia and eight on Europe, focus in particular on the role and effectiveness of minimum wages in the context of national trends in income inequality, economic development, and social security.

more information and ordering options

Global Labor Column No. 197 (March 2015)

Preconditions for successful implementation of the new minimum wage in Germany

In a contribution for the Global Labor Column Thorsten Schulten (WSI) discusses current deficits of the new statutory minimum wage in Germany and presents detailed proposals for a better implementation.

full text

WSI Discussion Paper No. 197

Sector-level Strategies against Precarious Employment in Germany

This study focuses on describing and analyzing the concrete initiatives taken by trade unions and employers to combat precarious employment in construction, commercial cleaning, hospitals and temporary agency work. It is based on an evaluation of recent data, research literature and policy documents as well as a number of interviews with experts from all four sectors. The study is also part of a wider European project called “Bargaining for Social Rights at Sector Level” (BARSORIS) which include studies from seven European countries (Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the UK).

Download (pdf)
more on the BARSORIS project


New Publication

European Economic Governance and Collective Bargaining

In a contribution to a new book of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) and Torsten Müller (ETUI) analyse the influence of the new European Economic Governance on national wage developments and collective bargaining.

more information and download


Contours of a European Minimum Wage Policy

In a recent study published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Thorsten Schulten (WSI) summarises the current debate on a European Minimum Wage Policy and analyses its economic, political and institutional implications.

Download (pdf)

Council of Nordic Trade Unions & FES Seminar, 02.10.2014, Oslo

Future of Collective Bargaining in Germany

Dr. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) presents trends in German collective bargaining and their implications for wage developments and economic performance, concluding that the introduction of minimum wages and improved extension regulations may help to establish a more expansive and more solidaristic wage policy.

download (pdf)


New WSI Discussion paper

Wages, Collective Bargaining and Economic Development in Germany

Thorsten Schulten and Reinhard Bispinck discuss long-term trends in German collective bargaining and its implications for the overall economic development.

more information and download


ETUI Policy Brief

Back on the agenda: a European minimum wage standard

In a new Policy Brief from the European Trade Union Institute Thorsten Schulten (WSI) and Torsten Müller (ETUI) discuss possibilities of a European minimum wage policy.

more information and download


Conflict Resolution in Germany

In his contribution to "The Oxford Handbook of Conflict Management in Organizations", Dr. Martin Behrens (WSI) looks into the dispute resolution mechanisms in German employment relations. The author investigates whether increasing economic pressure on companies in export-driven industries has undermined social partnership and whether traditional institutions for conflict resolution are still adequate to address workplace-related conflict in the future.

more information and ordering options

Recent publication in Comparative European Politics

'Breaking up is hard to do’: German trade unions within the Social Democratic Party

Using data from a survey of more than 2300 SPD activists, Wade Jacoby (Brigham Young University) and Martin Behrens (WSI) explore individual attitudes towards German trade unions. Findings reveal two distinct dimensions of alienation: ‘Content alienation’ picks up on differences in political goals among unions and the SPD, ‘contact alienation’ builds on scepticism about union inclination or capacity. more...


Trade unions in Germany: Developments, challenges, strategies

In 2014 the DGB trade unions can look back on a number of important achievements. At the same time, they face important future challenges. The brochure provides information on the political context, recent membership development and density, along with assessments on approaches and controversies concerning trade union crisis policy, the struggle against the low-wage sector and organising strategies.

Download (pdf)
Spanish version (pdf)
French version (pdf)


Recent publication

Unemployment and wages in Europe

In a contribution to a new book of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Madrid, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) analyses recent trends in unemployment and wages in Europe under the conditions of the economic crisis.

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European Journal of Industrial Relations

Wage and workforce adjustments in the economic crisis in Germany and the Netherlands

Kea Tijdens, Maarten van Klaveren (University of Amsterdam), Reinhard Bispinck, Heiner Dribbusch (WSI) and Fikret Öz (IAT) investigated the trade-off between wage and workforce adjustments and the role of industrial relations in firm-level responses to the economic crisis in Germany and the Netherlands. The authors found no large-scale evidence of wage concessions being traded-off for job protection in the two countries. Collective bargaining ensured that wage-setting was more robust than employment protection.

full text (pdf)


Minimum Wage Regimes in Europe

In a study for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) gives an overview on the various minimum wage regimes in Europe and discusses the question what Germany might learn from European experiences.

full text (pdf)


Public Hearing, Brussels, 09.01.2014

The impact of the Troika policy on wages and collective bargaining

Dr. Thorsten Schulten (WSI), invited expert to a Public Hearing at the European Parliament, concluded that the Troika policy led to a systematic weakening and dismantling of multi-employer bargaining, to a dramatic decline of the bargaining coverage and a strong downward pressure on wages.

presentation (pdf)

How Does Market Making Affect Industrial Relations?

Schulten, Thorsten, Ian Greer und Nils Böhlke, 2013: How Does Market Making Affect Industrial Relations? Evidence from Eight German Hospitals, in: British Journal of Industrial Relations 51(2): 215-239. more...

Anti-Unionism in a Coordinated Market Economy: the Case of Germany

Behrens, Martin, und Heiner Dribbusch, 2013: Anti-Unionism in a Coordinated Market Economy: the Case of Germany, in: Gregor Gall and Tony Dundon (eds.), Global Anti-Unionism. Nature, Dynamics, Trajectories and Outcomes. Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 83-103. more...

Trade Unions in Germany: Organisation, Environment, Challenges

Dribbusch, Heiner, and Peter Birke, 2012: Trade Unions in Germany: Organisation, Environment, Challenges. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

full text (pdf)

The impact of union merger decisions on workers' representation in Germany

Behrends, Martin, and Andreas Pekarek, 2012: To merge or not to merge? The impact of union merger decisions on workers' representation in Germany, in: Industrial Relations Journal 43(6): 527-547. more...

European Minimum Wage Policy

Schulten, Thorsten, 2012: European Minimum Wage Policy: A concept for wage-led growth and fair wages in Europe, in: International Journal of Labour Research 4(1): 85-104.

download (pdf)

For more information on publications and projects, please visit the German webpage of the research area. 


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