Project Information

Shipping Off Labour: Changing Staffing Strategies in Globalized Workplaces

 Background and Objectives

Studies of cross-border mobility in the context of eastern enlargement have tended to either focus on sectors where capital (production) mobility is prominent or on those where labour mobility is prominent. What is missing is research on the double mobility, where both capital (production) and labour mobility occur, possibly in opposite directions. Shipbuilding offers a special case because it allows for examining this double mobility, thus changes in production as well as staffing strategies and the resulting changes in economic and social cleavages in more detail. While the European shipbuilding industry was for a long-time considered a ‘sunset industry’, due to fierce global competition in particular from Asian producers, the 2004-2007 EU enlargements altered the choices set for shipyard employers. Companies in Northern European shipyards not only outsourced parts of their production to countries such as Poland and Romania, they also increasingly used (external) posted and agency labour in their ‘in-house’ production prompting labour market segmentation and more precarious types of contracts. More recently, rapid technological innovation and stricter emission requirements open up for new production and staffing strategies that might spur demand for more skilled.

We propose to study the reconfiguration of employers’ production and staffing strategies within a global but regionally concentrated industry from a comparative perspective. We will examine

  1. how the change in regional economic integration (eastern enlargements) impacts on production and staffing strategies
  2. how technological changes and the Covid-19 pandemic affect employer strategies
  3. how these changes are negotiated by the social actors and


This comparative four-year project anchors the examination of production and staffing strategies in yard companies in Norway, Germany, Italy, Poland and Romaniaall central shipbuilding nations. While globalisation is often conceived as a harmonising force, its local effects are highly contingent on nation-specific institutions and actor responses. Thus, these countries provide variation in the actor constellations and institutions governing employment protection, collective bargaining and voice. Their yards also fill different roles in the changing division of labour in the European industry. In these different contexts, what changes has the European Eastern enlargement, technological changes and the Covid-19 pandemic brought about in production and staffing strategies?  And what effects does this have on working conditions along the value chain?

The core of the empirical investigation consists of interviews with experts at European and national level as well as case studies in shipyards that are part of transnational production networks. The research will be carried out by the IAQ team and researchers from the four countries mentioned above. The project is coordinated by the Norwegian Institute for Social Research (for further information see the project website).


Dr. Karen Jaehrling; Frederic Hüttenhoff: Transnationale Arbeitsmärkte im exportorientierten Wachstumsmodell: Interessenkonstellationen und Strategien der Akteure der industriellen Beziehungen in der Schiffbauindustrie. Transnationale industrielle Beziehungen. GIRA-Jahrestagung, 6.&7. Oktober 2022, Bochum, 06.10.2022  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling; Frederic Hüttenhoff: A crisis of crisis management strategies: precarious growth strategies in the German Shipbuilding industry before and after Covid 19. Fractious Connections: Anarchy, Activism, Coordination, and Control. SASE's 34th Annual Meeting, 9-11 July, Amsterdam, 10.07.2022  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling, Ines Wagner; Jan Czarzasty; Jon Erik Dølvik; Torsten Müller; Devi Sacchetto; Aurora Trif: Retrenchment, Disruption and Re-organisation: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on an Internationalised Sector. Making and Breaking Boundaries in Work and Employment Relations. 19th ILERA World Congress, 21-24 June 2021 (Virtual Conference), 23.06.2021

Project data

Term of the project:
01.10.2020 - 30.10.2024

Reseach department:
Flexibility and Security

Project management:
Dr. Karen Jaehrling

Project team:
Frederic Hüttenhoff

Institute for Social Research, (ISR), Oslo

Project website: