Project Information

Public Procurement as a new arena of industrial relations

Background and Objectives

A broad range of empirical studies have investigated the outsourcing of public tasks to private contractors and have largely found negative effects on the quality of employment conditions in the privatized companies. This deterioration of job quality is primarily seen as a consequence of the gap between the public and the private sector in terms of pay levels and the strength of industrial relations. Yet there is an increasing awareness at the political level that public authorities also have ways and means of influencing working conditions in the contracted companies – for instance by making certain social standards a selection criterion in public procurement procedures.  This set of policies adds a third actor to the usually bilateral balancing of interests between employer and employee representatives: public administration. Hence, the transition from the ‘interventionist state’ to the ‘regulatory state’ gives rise to new trilateral interest configurations which so far have not been investigated systematically. The project aims to describe and explain the varying manifestations and results of these increasingly relevant trilateral negotiation processes. The central question of the research project is therefore how the conflicting interests in this negotiation arena – budget consolidation, normative expectations regarding socially responsible procurement, the profit interests of the private sector employer and employee concerns – are balanced.


The core of the empirical inquiry consists of in-depth qualitative case studies on public procurement processes in a selection of local authorities. From a conceptual and analytical point of view, the research project presupposes that the interaction between procurement-specific processes and the general institutional context, particularly labour market regulations and the system of industrial relations, will deserve particular attention. The empirical investigation therefore compares public procurement procedures in two industries – waste disposal and contract catering – that are most dissimilar with regard to the institutional context. Moreover, in order to allow for a cross-country comparison the project seeks to cooperate with two partners in Denmark and the UK.



Refslund, Bjarke / Jaehrling, Karen / Johnson, Mathew / Koukiadaki, Aristea / Larsen, Trine Pernille / Stiehm, Christin, 2020: Moving in and out of the Shadow of European Case Law – The dynamics of public procurement in the post‐post‐Rüffert era. In: JCMS Journal of Common Market Studies 58 (5), pp. 1165–1181 | DOI-Link

Jaehrling, Karen / Johnson, Mathew / Larsen, Trine P. / Refslund, Bjarke / Grimshaw, Damian, 2018: Tackling precarious work in public supply chains: A comparison of local government procurement policies in Denmark, Germany and the UK. In: Work, Employment and Society 32 (3), pp. 546-563 | DOI-Link| Info

Jaehrling, Karen, 2015: Öffentliche Auftragsvergabe – eine neue Arena der industriellen Beziehungen? Konzeptionelle Überlegungen und erste empirische Befunde. In: Industrielle Beziehungen 22 (3-4), S. 325-344

Jaehrling, Karen, 2015: The state as a ‘socially responsible customer’? Public procurement between market-making and market-embedding. In: European Journal of Industrial Relations 21 (2), pp. 149-164


Dr. Karen Jaehrling: Variegated de-marketization': manifestations and dynamics of extra-neoliberal politics and practices. Industrial relations and the Green Transition; towards inclusive and sustainable growth. 13th European Regional Congress of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA), Barcelona, 8–10 September 2022, 10.09.2022  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling, Ian Greer: Two books about marketization in Europe: an author-meets-author session. Fractious Connections: Anarchy, Activism, Coordination, and Control. SASE's 34th Annual Meeting, 9–11 July 2022, Amsterdam, 09.07.2022  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: Organisational and institutional experimentation in public supply chains: The case of Germany. Making and Breaking Boundaries in Work and Employment Relations. 19th ILERA World Congress, 21-24 June 2021 (Virtual Conference) , 22.06.2021  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: Vergabemindestlöhne - die zweite Generation. DGB-Workshop zum Thema 'Tarifbindung stärken' (Virtueller Workshop), 12.05.2021

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: ‘Street level market making’. How local authorities use public procurement as a lever to promote decent work in Germany. Seminar, King’s Business School, King’s College London, 23.10.2019

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: German public procurement regulation and its interplay with European regulation and case law: obedient anticipation, implementation ‘one-to-one’ or testing the waters? ILERA European Congress 2019: Perspectives of Employment Relations in Europe. In Kooperation mit: International Industrial Relations Association – Sektion der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V., Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, 05.09.2019  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: Leaving the Laval quartet behind? The judicialisation and politicisation of public procurement in Germany. 6th Regulating for Decent Work Conference (RDW) 2019, Genf/Schweiz, ILO, 08.07.2019  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: The public ethos of outsourcing: Exploring the changing role and professional norms of procurement managers . Fathomless Futures: Algorithmic and Imagined, SASE 31st Annual meeting, New York/USA, The New School, 27.06.2019  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling, Christin Stiehm: Öffentliche Auftragsvergabe als neue Arena industrieller Beziehungen – Ein ‚Paradigmenwechsel‘ zugunsten besserer Arbeitsbedingungen? GIRA-Jahrestagung 2018. German Industrial Relations Association (GIRA), Hochschule Darmstadt, 12.10.2018  Weitere Informationen

Dr. Karen Jaehrling: German public procurement regulation and its interplay with European regulation and case law: obedient anticipation, implementation one-to-one or testing the waters? MANREG Research Seminar. School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester Centre for Regulation, Governance and Public Law (MANREG) , 27.09.2018

Dr. Karen Jaehrling, Christin Stiehm: Governance structures in public procurement: A ‘paradigm shift’ without consequences? (mit A. Koukiadaki, M. Johnson, M. Mustchin, L. Watt). The WEI Fourth Biennial Fairness at Work Conference. 'Justice at Work: Challenges and Possibilities'. University of Manchester, WEI, Manchester, UK, 10.09.2018  Weitere Informationen

Project data

Term of the project:
01.01.2016 - 04.08.2020

Reseach department:
Flexibility and Security

Project management:
Dr. Karen Jaehrling

Project team:
Christin Stiehm

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)