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Nordic Collective Agreements – A Continuous Institution in a Changing Economic Environment

The Nordic Varieties of Capitalism

ISBN: 978-0-85724-777-3, eISBN: 978-0-85724-778-0

Publication date: 18 October 2011


The chapter presents a historical and economic analysis of Nordic wage formation, with a special focus on how collective agreements really work. A stereotypical interpretation of the evolution of Nordic wage bargaining systems is that a centralised setting of wages has gradually been substituted with more decentralised pay bargaining. This overlooks the fact that central organisations could never really control wage levels, even in the golden age of centralised bargaining. Instead, central pay bargains defined minimum wage changes that ensured that local conflicts would be ruled out. Moreover, the central stipulations could often be overruled or adjusted at the local level. Following insights of Teulings and Hartog, we argue that the main function of Nordic collective agreements has always been to rule out local conflicts that would otherwise be initiated to seek local rents. Thus, collective agreements combine macroeconomic flexibility with adequate investment incentives at the local level. In this crucial sense, Nordic collective agreements are a completely stable institution. The most important transformation that has taken place is that formal peak bargaining on mean pay increases has been substituted with pattern bargaining where the manufacturing industry acts as a wage leader. Economic theory suggests that this almost amounts to centralised pay setting.


Vartiainen, J. (2011), "Nordic Collective Agreements – A Continuous Institution in a Changing Economic Environment", Mjøset, L. (Ed.) The Nordic Varieties of Capitalism (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 331-363.



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