In industrial relations, pattern bargaining is the process whereby a collective agreement is used by trade unions or employer organisations to demand similar conditions and entitlements in another bargaining process. As such, pattern bargaining can be considered a mechanism of implicit coordination in collective bargaining and wage-setting. Pattern bargaining can occur at company or sectoral level.
In the case of company-level agreements, the pattern company is usually a dominant one that plays a leading role in the sector or one whose collective agreement contains particularly favourable conditions for workers. Innovative collective agreements can also be taken as ‘patterns’ by trade unions and employer organisations. In such cases, pattern bargaining constitutes a mechanism for the intrasectoral coordination of collective bargaining in those countries or sectors where there is no multi-employer collective bargaining.
In the case of sectoral collective bargaining, the pattern sector typically plays a key role in the relevant economy, has high union membership levels or is exposed to international competition, as with manufacturing, for example. In these cases, the role of pattern bargaining is to achieve intersectoral coordination and, ultimately, wage compression across sectors. However, pattern bargaining can also be used as a mechanism to achieve wage moderation, which can be extended to all sectors of the economy, whether or not they are exposed to international competition.
One notable case of pattern bargaining in Europe is in the manufacturing sector in Germany, where it constitutes the main mechanism for collective bargaining coordination. Pattern bargaining stemming from the manufacturing sector is, to a large extent, responsible for the German economy’s policy of wage moderation in the 2000s.