The Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

The Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) is an independent academic institute within the Hans-Böckler-Foundation, a non-profit organisation fostering co-determination and promoting research and academic study on behalf of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB).

Since it was founded in 1946, the institute's focus has always been on the improvement of life chances, on social justice and fair working and living conditions. Economists, sociologists, political scientists and law scholars work on social, economic and labour market policy issues. On the basis of their analyses, researchers elaborate policy proposals aimed at overcoming labour market restrictions and social problems to the benefit of employees.

Heiner Dribbusch (WSI)/Peter Birke (University of Goettingen): FES Study

Trade unions in Germany: Challenges in a time of transition

Germany after the crisis: the economy has recovered, unemployment has fallen. However, many challenges for trade unions remain: precarious jobs, digitalisation, the decline of collective bargaining coverage. New aspects: The shift to the far-right in society and the migration caused by the global refugee crisis touching the question of trade union solidarity. The brochure provides information on the political context, recent membership development and density, along with assessments on approaches and controversies concerning trade union policies.

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Los sindicatos en Alemania: Desafíos en una época de transiciones (pdf)
Les syndicats allemands: Défis en période de transition (pdf)

Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, advance online publication 21.03.2019

Precariousness among solo self-employed workers

Solo self-employed in Germany and the Netherlands: Findings by Karin Schulze Buschoff (WSI) and Witeke Conen (University of Amsterdam) reveal a highly precarious situation in terms of earnings and social security. As compared to the Netherlands, German solo self-employed workers face higher risks concerning income and old age poverty.

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Journal of European Integration

Patterns of pooling and delegation after the crisis: old and new asymmetries

European integration after the euro crisis: Restoration of national control or upgrade of supranational autonomy? Daniel Seikel (WSI) analyses the key institutions of the reformed European economic governance,finding that control over risk-reducing and market-making institutions has been delegated to supranational institutions whereas control over risk-sharing and market-correcting institutions has remained in the hands of the member states.

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WSI Study 17, 01/2019


German and Dutch works councils enjoy similar far-reaching legal rights and work in a similar context. A large online-survey among 1138 German and 638 Dutch works councils, however, reveals strong differences in strategies, relations and (in)formal ways of interaction.

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European Journal of Industrial Relations Vol. 24 (4)

The manufacturing sector: Still an anchor for pattern bargaining within and across countries?

Collective wage bargaining systems in manufacturing in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden are confronted with two key challenges: increased cross-country competition between Northern European companies operating within the same high-value/high-cost segment of the market; and the competitive pressures resulting from increased east-north integration. Thorsten Schulten (WSI), Torsten Müller (ETUI), Jon Eric Dølvik (Fafo) and Christian Ibsen (Michigan State University) show how the responses of collective actors to these two challenges shaped the development of wage bargaining systems.

more ...

ILERA European Congress, 05.-07.09.2019 Düsseldorf

Perspectives of Employment Relations in Europe

Changes in industrial relations in Europe: decline in collective bargaining coverage, employer and union densities, but also many efforts to restructure the welfare state as well as systems of labour market regulation. The 12th ILERA European Congress invites participants to research and discuss how societal actors seek to actively shape labour relations, institutions, processes and outcomes.

Call for Papers

German Politics, November 2018

Employer Resistance to Works Councils

In Germany, incidents of employers’ hostility towards the establishment of works councils are widespread. Based on data provided by a survey among paid union representatives, Martin Behrens and Heiner Dribbusch (WSI) find that employers disrupt every sixth attempt to establish a works council. The most common strategy is to intimidate candidates. Results indicate that attempts by employers to obstruct employees’ participation rights are focused on medium-sized and owner-managed firms.

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Anke Hassel, 29.10.2018

Why The Left Must Talk About Migration

The impact of high levels of immigration is likely to challenge the institutions of comprehensive regulation of labour markets on which the European Social Model rests. The left has to find a policy on migration which is strong on anti-racism but does not ignore reality.

Human Resource Management Journal, 19.09.2018: "Small change, big impact"

Employers' associations: Exit from multiemployer bargaining in Germany

Why do some employers' associations offer their members the option to join and access services while avoiding the obligations arising to regular members from industry‐level collective agreements with unions whereas others have refused to introduce this option? An empirical analysis by Martin Behrens (WSI) and Markus Helfer (University Innsbruck)

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WSI Study 15, 09/2018

Social protection of mainstream and marginal employment in the UK

Labour law regulations and the national insurance systems for self-employed, secondary jobs and marginal part-time employment in the UK: Regulations are complex and confusing and impede take-up. Lack of transparency and weak enforcement hits vulnerable workers the most. The new study by Jacqueline O' Reilly and Christine Lewis is part of the WSI research project "Hybrid working arrangements in Europe”.

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information on the research project


Recent book chapter

The German exception: welfare protectionism instead of retrenchment

Are there austerity-related policy changes in Germany? Anke Hassel and Werner Eichhorst investigate the existence and extent of retrenchment policies in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession. Analyses show that while the major reforms during the early 2000s can be characterised as welfare state readjustment, more recent changes entail at least some characteristics of welfare protectionism.

more information on the book ...


ILO-Publication, 09.07.2018

Collective Agreements: Extending Labour Protection

A Research Project by the International Labour Organization (ILO) examined the extension of collective agreements in international comparison. Thorsten Schulten analyses the German case and explains why the legal reform of 2014 has so far largely failed to enable more extensions.

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ETUI-ETUC Conference, 27.06.2018


If analyses of demographic change are reduced to changes of demographic dependency ratios alone the solution is often an increase of the retirement age. Florian Blank shows in a presentation why labour market policies are more important to encounter ageing societies.

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Recent publication: etui 2018

Multi-employer bargaining under pressure

Since 2008, collective bargaining systems have been under pressure to follow the logic of companies and market imperatives. The book investigates the ongoing shift from centrally coordinated multi-employer to decentralized collective bargaining in five EU Member States. Among the authors: Thorsten Schulten and Reinhard Bispinck.

more information and free download

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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WSI Study 11, 03/2018


A new study on Danish social protection for atypical employment summarizes the main regulations and trends. Mikkel Mailand and Tine P. Larsen (University of Copenhagen) find that benefits are increasingly depend on employment status and on collective bargaining coverage. A further trend, which is mainly seen from the beginning of the present decade, is towards stricter entitlement rules and other barriers to benefits. The study is part of the WSI research project on "Hybrid working arrangements in Europe”.

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WSI Collective Bargaining Report Germany 2017

Collective bargaining report 2017 (pdf)


Recent book publication

It’s Basic Income. The global debate

Is a Universal Basic Income the answer to an increasingly precarious job landscape? Could it bring greater financial freedom for women, tackle the issue of unpaid but essential work, cut poverty and promote greater choice? Or is it a dead-end utopian ideal that distracts from more practical and cost-effective solutions? Among the authors: Anke Hassel (WSI), defending the position that unconditional basic income is a dead end.

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WSI Report Nr. 39e, 02/2018

Comprehensive Analysis on Minimum Wages

The call for a minimum wage sufficient to secure a decent existence has been at
the centre of public debate both in Germany and across Europe. The WSI
Minimum Wage Report aims to contribute to this debate by offering a comprehensive analysis of current minimum wage developments in Europe and beyond.

WSI Report 39e (pdf, English)

European Social Observatory (OSE)

Occupational Welfare in Europe

In a recently published book on occupational welfare in Europe, Florian Blank (WSI) discusses recent developments in the field of pensions and unemployment-related schemes in Germany. In his article he disentangles the complex state of occupational welfare in the German system of welfare provision and industrial relations.

More about the book
chapter by Florian Blank (pdf)


Daniel Seikel, Dorothee Spannagel (WSI): Activation and in-work poverty

Employment - the best route out of poverty?

In-work poverty is on the rise in many European countries. At the same time, labour market policies focus predominantly on activation measures. Using EU-SILC and OECD data, the authors show that active labour market polices with a stronger focus on demanding than on enabling strategies lead to higher in-work poverty rates.

information on the book (pdf)


WSI Policy Brief Nr. 19, 01/2018

Millions of workers are denied minimum wage

In 2016, 2,7 Million workers in Germany received less than the minimum wage of 8,50€ per hour. This comes up to 9,8% of people who are entitled to receive it after the minimum wage law that came into force in 2015. The highest rates of avoidance by employers are found in private households (42,6%), hotel and catering industry (38,0%) and retail (19,5%).

Article at Deutsche Welle (English)
WSI Policy Brief 19 (German)


Social Europe, 01/2018

Addressing Social Equality in Europe

The recent wave of mistrust towards political systems in the Western world points out social inequality as the defining issue of our time. A new dossier of Social Europe in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) investigates various aspects of inequality with a European perspective.


Key research topics

WSI research covers issues of employment and institutional change in a globalising world, the quality of work as well as questions of redistribution and social security, industrial relations and collective bargaining policy. The work of the WSI is organised in five research areas:

Labour market and working conditions
Wage policy, collective bargaining and industrial relations
Social policy and redistribution
Gender research
Europe and European policies

Surveys and data collections

WSI studies empirically draw on a number of unique surveys, data collections and documentations. Tables, analyses and graphs in professional quality layout are available for free download via online web portals. more...

Research expertise

Information on WSI members of staff and WSI guests and their fields of expertise

WSI Academic Staff



"WSI-Mitteilungen" is a scientific journal providing up-to-date information on the results of research on current issues of relevance to trade unions.

more information

Networks, cooperations, fellowships

WSI actively participates in national and international research networks. Next to temporary projects, the institute maintains well-established long-term research relations with academic partners and trade-union organizations. more...


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