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Collective action for self-employed workers: a necessary response to increasing income inequality

WP C.S.D.L.E. “Massimo D’Antona”.INT – 155/2021

This article is part of the project “Tecniche di tutela del lavoro autonomo, imprenditoriale e non imprenditoriale” which has received funding by the University of Verona “Excellence Project”, “Diritto, cambiamenti e tecnologie” and is forthcoming in the Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal.

After a brief description of the problem of working poor in the self-employment sector, which has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic crisis, the paper explores three different forms of collective action for self-employed workers: political and legislative, through lobbying, social alliances and other institutional activities; economic, through the use of coercive measures such as strikes and collective bargaining; judiciary, through legal claims filed by the unions or by individual workers supported by the unions. Collective action seems to be predominantly based on political action, while collective bargaining and strike are hindered by a number of factors; namely, the fragmentation of the social and economic counterpart and the strict EU approach based on the assumed incompatibility between self-employed collective bargaining and competition law. The paper criticizes this approach and, after a brief comparative overview, it argues that the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike should be recognized and protected whenever they are necessary to pursue social policy objectives such as counteracting inequality of economic and bargaining powers. Finally, legal activism and strategic litigation are taken into account as they might be used to strengthen the power of self-employed workers unions and to guarantee workers, who frequently cannot bear the costs of a proceeding, a more effective judicial protection. In this particular field, a future cooperation between unions and NGOs, usually provided with high technical skills and financial resources, might play an important role.

author(s): Razzolini, Orsola
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