EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Pirate collective agreements


Pirate collective agreements are agreements signed by small, usually non-representative trade unions and employer associations. Specifically, these agreements negotiate downwards and erode working conditions with the aim of undermining working standards set in existing collective agreements at company or sector level. As such, pirate collective agreements are an instrument for social dumping in collective bargaining.

Background and status

In some cases, pirate collective agreements exploit ambiguities in the way that social partners’ representativeness is defined and/or measured at national level. This is the case in Italy, for example, where there has been a proliferation of such agreements since the early 2000s. These pacts have been promoted by newly created trade unions and employers, and they have been signed at company or sectoral level. In other cases, pirate collective agreements are signed by newly established companies to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by existing regulations in order to negotiate their own collective agreements downward. In Spain, for instance, the labour market reform in 2012 resulted in company collective agreements prevailing over sectoral agreements.

There is evidence of a significant negative wage gap for workers employed under less representative agreements, that becomes even larger when considering pirate contracts only. Workers with a non-representative contract are also more likely to be paid below the collectively agreed minimum wage (defined at the industry-wide level).

One way to combat pirate collective agreements is for unions and employer organisations to establish clear rules and criteria for representativeness at national level.

Related dictionary terms

Employee representation employer organisations representativeness social dumping trade unions

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