The paper advances a threefold theoretical contribution using a system, society and dominance (SSD) effects framework to show how and why sustainable management–labour workplace partnerships are a chimera. First, managers (employers) find it increasingly difficult to keep workplace bargains with employees (unions) owing to increasingly neoliberal ‘system’ effects associated with capitalism as a globalized accumulation model. Second, workplace mutuality will be rare because of ‘societal’ level effects under voluntarism. Third, ‘dominance’ effects arising from the power of dominant economies and their multinational corporations can inhibit workplace mutuality. Drawing on empirical case study data from Ireland, the future prognosis of management–labour collaboration under neoliberal work regimes is discussed.