Employment issues from the shop floor to the head office

Perspectives on Labour Law. First edition
May 27, 2005

Most labour lawyers have a well-thumbed copy of The Worker and the Law by Bill Wedderburn on their bookshelves. Revisiting this seminal work is particularly useful before the beginning of any employment law course to remind us about the much-neglected topic of historical perspective on the subject matter.

A.C.L. Davies’s new monograph now usefully fills this void and informatively updates us. Part one of this book offers a timely reminder of the ideologies that underlie and continue to fuel the array of employment laws at national, European and international levels. Such ideologies, the author informs us, deliberately mould and produce the desired implications that affect the employer and employee at work. The historical context, tracing collective laissez-faire and its demise under deregulation and individualism, reminds me of Wedderburn’s classic argument about the inequality of bargaining power.

Furthermore, Bob Hepple’s “race to the bottom” critique of social rights, Paul Davies and Mark Freedland’s theory of workers’ rights and Simon Deakin and Frank Wilkinson’s “floor of rights” are explained. They are arguments that nostalgically seem to have framed my own and many other labour lawyers’ views since the late 1980s. Yet, beyond the 1970s and 1980s, this book updates the labour lawyer’s knowledge base on policy, including, as Hugh Collins describes it, the “Third Way agenda in labour law”.

The author’s engagement with economic and social rights discourse provides valuable insights into the variant policy agendas at the different levels. The only criticism is that various modes of regulation, particularly the human-rights debate, could have been extended in coverage because they superficially provide an overview of well-known rights. As the European Union Constitution gathers support and pace, such social rights will become more significant and the human rights perspective more integral than is presently accepted. Furthermore, the globalisation phenomenon might have been analysed outside the pure economic sphere, given its recurrence in EU-level political debates.

Part two of the book applies the rights and economic theorists’ rationales to selected key topics in labour law, such as atypical employment, pay, discrimination and collective representation. This mix of issues sets out to ensure that the reader is exposed to challenging application of the perspectives given in part one. Part two also serves to further the reader’s development of their self-evaluation of the perspectives being offered.

Throughout the book, the writing is clear and well constructed. The considerable academic literature applied, summarised and digested is remarkable. Clearly this well-positioned book within the scholarly Law in Context series is suitable for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

Above all, this text introduces, in a modern fashion, the wider perspectives on labour law that will serve to remind students and scholars of the field about the existing theories before embarking on any future analysis of the state of labour law in the 21st century.

Stephen Hardy is senior lecturer in law, Manchester University.

Perspectives on Labour Law. First edition

Author - A. C. L. Davies
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 258
Price - £19.99
ISBN - 0 521 60523 7

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