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The (In)Visible Third Party: De and Re-regulation of Working conditions through Public Procurement


The liberalisation and privatisation of public services implies a gradual
transformation of the state from an ‘employer’ to a ‘customer’ buying
products and services from private providers. This in turn changes its
regulatory role in the realm of employment conditions. By transferring
the operation of public tasks to private contractors, public authorities
also lay on them the responsibility of determining wages and other
working conditions for employees who carry out the (formerly) public
tasks. But even though in these cases public authorities no longer act
as social partners in bipartite collective negotiations (or as employers
unilaterally defining working conditions for their own employees, as in
the case of civil servants), they can still exert considerable influence on
the employment conditions offered by their private contractors through
a different set of policies: firstly, through general policies covering the
entire workforce (such as labour market regulation and social policies),
and, secondly, through policies and practices based on public authorities’
power of demand – for instance by making certain social standards
a selection criteria in public procurement procedures. Job quality in
the contracted-out segments of the public sector is therefore not out of
reach of the public authorities; yet, to achieve job quality they have to
redefine their role, becoming a third party in the definition of employment
conditions, in addition to the two other parties involved, namely
(the representatives of) the private contractors and their employees.


Academic chapter/article/Conference paper





  • Gerhard-Mercator-University of Duisburg
  • SINTEF Digital / Technology Management
  • Bulgarian Academy of Sciences




Palgrave Macmillan


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