Studies linked collective bargaining to an increased wage level, decreased hiring and more rigid labour markets. But unionized labour has greatly contracted in almost all OECD countries. Why has unemployment remained so persistently high?
In France and the Netherlands collective agreements were applied to non-unionized labour (close to four fifth of the actually employed in the latter). Employment increases only where both union membership and coverage by collective agreements are down (USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia).
There are different models of wage bargaining. In the USA and Canada agreements are sometimes signed at the firm or even individual plant level. Throughout Scandinavia (though this may be changing in Norway and Denmark now that centre-right parties have won the elections), a single national agreement prevails. There is no clear trend, though. Britain, New Zealand and Sweden decentralized their collective bargaining processes while Norway and Portugal are still centralized.
Both types of bargaining - centralized and decentralized - tend to moderate wage demands. Centralized bargaining forces union leaders to consider the welfare of the entire workforce. Either of the pure models seems preferable to a hybrid system. The worst results are obtained with national bargaining for specific industries. Hybrid-bargaining Europe saw its unemployment soar from 3 to 11% in the last 25 years. Pure-bargaining USA maintained a low unemployment rate of 5-6% during the same quarter century.