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Abstract

While welfare reform matters for workers and workplaces, it is peripheral in English-language sociology of work and industrial relations research. This article’s core proposition is that active labour market policies (ALMPs) are altering the institutional constitution of the labour market by intensifying market discipline within the workforce. This re-commodification effect is specified drawing on Marxism, comparative institutionalism, German-language sociology and English-language social policy analysis. Because of administrative failure and employer discrimination, however, ALMPs may worsen precarity without achieving the stated goal of increasing labour market participation.
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Welfare reform, precarity and the re-commodification of labour
Ian Greer, University of Greenwich
i.greer@greenwich.ac.uk
Greer, Ian. 2016. "Welfare reform, precarity and the re-commodification of labour." Work,
employment and society 30:1, 162-173.
While welfare reform matters for workers and workplaces, it is peripheral in English-
language sociology of work and industrial relations research.1 This article’s core proposition
is that active labour market policies (ALMPs) are altering the institutional constitution of the
labour market by intensifying market discipline within the workforce. This re-
commodification effect is specified drawing on Marxism, comparative institutionalism,
German-language sociology, and English-language social policy analysis. Because of
administrative failures and employer discrimination, however, ALMPs may worsen precarity
without achieving the stated goal of increasing labour-market participation.
Keywords: workfare, active labour market policies, precarity, precariat, industrial reserve
army, labour re-commodification, welfare reform, labour markets.
1 For helpful comments, many thanks to Matthias Knuth, Rob MacKenzie, Sarah Nies, Peter Streckeisen, Ozlem
Onaran, Mark Stuart, Matt Vidal, and three anonymous reviewers, as well as the participants of the stream
“Jobs and Joblessness in the Crisis” at the International Labour Process Conference, 5-7 April 2011, in Leeds.
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There is nothing counter-intuitive or new about the claim that work and employment are
shaped by welfare states and experiences of unemployment. Welfare reformers in the UK, for
example, have long seen welfare state reform as a way to stimulate labour market activity, by
putting downward pressure on wages (Nickell 1997) or reducing barriers to labour market
entry (Levitas 1998). While the classics of industrial relations and the sociology of work
discuss this connection (Webb and Webb 1905; Braverman 1975), welfare reform has only
been examined on the margins of these fields.
Numerous studies of labour market exclusion and marginality have appeared in Work
Employment and Society (e.g. Fevre 2011). They show that redundant manufacturing
workers, lone parents, the disabled, young unemployed people and members of other
marginalized groups each have specific and complex needs; and that the expansion of any of
these groups leads to escalating demands on public policy (Rubery 2011). However, they
also provide evidence of policy failing to meet these needs in the context of hazardous life
transitions such as redundancy (Weller 2010) or school leaving (Furlong 2006). Why is the
public policy response to unemployment so often ineffective?
This article starts with the observation that welfare reforms have, over the past few
decades, taken the form of Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs), which have aimed to
increase labour market participation and reduce spending on jobless benefits. The core
argument is that, in doing so, ALMPs tend to alter the institutional regulation of the labour
market by re-commodifying labour. This article specifies ALMPs and their effects in light of
the spread of workfarist social policy and a contrast between the industrial reserve army
mechanism and precarity. It then spells out the re-commodification effect and the
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administrative failures, employer discrimination and claimants' resistance that shape it. This
article concludes that, whatever the effectiveness of ALMPs in terms of increasing labour
market participation, their likely effect will be intensified labour market discipline.
Workfarist social policy
Activation as a policy concept emerged in response to criticisms of welfare states, starting
shortly after most assumed their modern forms in the 1960s and 1970s. Welfare benefits
were thought to reduce workers’ incentives to take jobs, incur costs that reduced capitalists’
incentives to invest, and reinforce long-term unemployment and associated inequalities of
income, wealth, health and happiness. Slogans such as 'no rights without responsibilities' and
'any job is better than no job' gained currency among mainstream academics and
policymakers. Welfare states, however, could not be abolished due to the role they played in
maintaining order and the vested interests they engendered in democratic polities (Offe 1984;
Pierson 1994). Jessop (2002) argued presciently that the resulting reforms would subordinate
social policy to the needs of employers, although the exact policy mix was unpredictable and
with different conceptual models of ALMP competing in the policy discourse.
One model, ‘flexicurity’, was inspired by Danish and Dutch examples and promoted
by the European Commission; it also attracted interest from industrial relations scholars (e.g.
Gray 2004; Heyes 2011; Johnston et al 2013). Flexicurity advocates argued that
competitiveness in world markets required flexible labor markets, including weak statutory
employment protection and requirements that welfare claimants look for work. However,
they also argued that strong social rights and protection were necessary to support worker
transitions between jobs, including income protection and vocational training. The
reconciliation of flexibility and security would work best, it was argued, if they were
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underpinned by cooperation between strong unions and employers associations (Auer 2010).
The consequences would resemble Pontusson’s (2012) depiction of labour markets under
social democratic welfare states: 'to bring people into the labour market and empower them
as sellers of labour power' (p. 98).
A second model of ALMP, 'workfare', emerged from welfare reforms in the United
States, most notably through the so-called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996. PRWORA reformed welfare benefits for low-income families
a disproportionate number of which were claimed by non-white lone parents – by introducing
work requirements, a five-year time limit, greater local discretion in implementation and new
restrictions on immigrants' eligibility (Blank 2002). Workfare, however, took on a broader
meaning beyond any one policy and became a catch-all term for any form of labour
activation aimed at re-regulating the labour market through an emphasis on job search (rather
than training), conditionality and sanctions (rather than unconditional entitlements) and a
'flexible' organizational structure of service delivery involving contractors, market
mechanisms and orientation toward local employers (Peck 2001).
The notion of workfare should have fired the imagination of labour process and
industrial relations theorists, since it pointed to institutional changes intended to intensify
control over job seekers and make them more compliant in low-wage jobs. California’s
GAIN programme of the 1980s and 1990s, for example, was assessed positively in evaluation
research, both in terms of increasing clients’ earnings and in terms of reducing benefit
payments (Greenberg et al 2005). GAIN downplayed skills training and emphasized quick
placements in private-sector jobs; the latter was underpinned by a programme to alter the
attitudes, behaviour and self-image of welfare claimants, through an upbeat message of
empowerment, a set of rules (on-time attendance, daily job search, no food, drink, or chewing
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gum and a dress code) and steep financial penalties for non-compliance. Employment
counsellors monitored attendees and were required to achieve ever-increasing job placement
outcomes (Peck 2001: 168-210). GAIN performed unusually well and influenced the
subsequent rollout of welfare programmes across the US from the late 1990s, even though its
advocates admitted that its ‘success’ may have been due to the rapid expansion of service-
sector work in a particular local labour market rather than the characteristics of the
programme (Greenberg et al 2005).
The comparative literature shows that while workfarism diffused across the English
and German-speaking countries (Peck 2001; Scherschel et al 2012), attempts to diffuse the
alternative beyond the ‘flexicurity countries’ (the Nordic countries and the Netherlands) were
hampered by the scepticism of policymakers and social partners (Auer 2010). There were
areas of convergence, such as the extension of job-search requirements to inactive groups
(Eichhorst and Konle-Seidl 2008), but not in terms of increasing security through increased
spending on vocational training or welfare benefits (Heyes 2011; Clasen and Clegg 2013).
While there is no comparative dataset that captures the pressures placed on claimants by these
reforms, the consensus in this literature is that rolling back worker protection has not been
countered by spending to increase worker security (see above sources and Gray 2003).
ALMPs thus have workfarist tendencies in countries known for differing social ‘models’.
Re-commodification and the reserve army mechanism
One result of this change in welfare states is escalating pressure on workers and unemployed
people. During their phase of expansion, welfare states produced, to varying degrees, the ‘de-
commodification’ of labour by intervening in labour markets in a way that loosened the
discipline of the labour market (Esping-Andersen 1990). Since welfare reformers attempted
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to reverse this effect and reinstate labour market discipline, the term ‘re-commodification’
came into use (Offe 1984). In line with that tradition, the definition of re-commodification
proposed here is any institutional change that reinstates the discipline of labour market
competition on workers, whether in or out of work, and whether through reforms to welfare
states, industrial relations, or labour markets. In contrast to that tradition, however, re-
commodification is not defined here purely in terms of the opposite of de-commodification;
instead it entails new forms of administrative control over workers and job-seekers. Welfare
states are not the only source of re-commodification (the loosening of other labour market
rules and new management techniques in the workplace could also have this effect); and
unemployed welfare claimants are not the only people whose labour could be re-
commodified (job holders can be affected through changes to in-work benefits). But welfare
reform is an important lever for intensified labour market competition, especially in the low-
wage and insecure segment.
The reserve army mechanism is central to the Marxist theory of unemployment and
the labour market. Marx himself defined the industrial reserve army as a ‘relative surplus
population’ generated by and needed by capitalism, whose standard of living is below that of
the working class, and whose members are available for exploitation in expanding areas of
the economy. He divided it into three groups: ‘floating’ (workers made redundant due to
economic downturn or greater efficiency), ‘latent’ (migrants from agricultural areas) and
‘stagnant’ (paupers and vagabonds). In times of economic crisis or technological change,
employers make large numbers of workers redundant, thus renewing the reserve army. The
function of the reserve army is to keep down the cost of labour in new and expanding
industries, even at times of overall growth and increasing employer demand (Marx and
Engels 1973: 640-740).
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The reserve army mechanism remained in the Marxist analytical toolkit during the
1970s and 1980s. Braverman (1975), for example, applied Marx’s schema to workers made
redundant by automation and other forms of industry restructuring (floating), who move from
job to job supported by unemployment insurance; immigrants and 'housewives' moving into
the formal labour market for the first time (latent); and others, including 'discouraged
workers' outside of unemployment statistics, who may receive social assistance while
working in casual jobs (stagnant). Sociologists also applied the concept, for example, to the
exploitation of women entering the workforce for the first time as low-wage flexible workers
(Collinson 1987). More recently social policy analysts have used it to examine the UK
Government’s labour market policies (Grover 2005; Wiggan 2014).
Nevertheless, the significance of the reserve army changed with the build-up of the
welfare state. Green's (1991) review of the Marxist economics literature of this period finds
the reserve army mechanism undermined by welfare states, which alleviated the 'distress' of
unemployment that might otherwise have led to lower wages and intensified management
control. Significant numbers of jobless people were taken out of the reserve army by welfare
states, because they were no longer available for work in a way that might produce these
kinds of short-run labour market effects across the economy. Similarly, new entrants to the
labour market such as women and migrants faced systematic exclusion from much of the
labour market due to segmentation processes. Green correctly argues that these groups cannot
be considered part of the reserve army if they are not carrying out work under poorer terms
and conditions than the rest of the workforce, and if their members are prevented from
replacing other workers.
Comparative institutionalist social science treated these effects of the welfare state as
the 'decommodification' of labour, drawing on Polanyi’s (1957) account of the re-constitution
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of labour as a 'false commodity'. Polanyi’s historical reference point was the 1834 repeal of
England's Speenhamland poor relief arrangements. Over the decades that followed, Polanyi
argued, the free functioning of labour markets was undermined by society’s responses to their
undesirable effects; he uses this lens to explain the rise of factory laws, unemployment
insurance and trade unionism. Esping-Andersen (1990) extended this idea to a broader
conception of decommodification through pension systems, unemployment insurance and
social assistance arrangements in the 20th century. In countries with high de-
commodification, he argued, the welfare state would strengthen workers' bargaining power as
they moved between jobs (through the unemployment insurance system) and allow some of
the non-working population to stay out of the reserve army (through pension and disability
benefits and poor relief). In Marxist terms, welfare states re-shaped labour markets by
interfering in various ways with the reserve army mechanism.
What happens when welfare reforms take place to reinstate labour market discipline?
Mandatory participation in activation programmes and punishments for non-participation
increase the loss of income, and hence the distress, associated with unemployment. These
pressures are extended beyond the ‘unemployed’ (jobless workers in the unemployment
insurance system) to young people in school-to-work transitions and parts of the 'inactive'
population (e.g. the disabled and lone parents). Any remaining comforts of unemployment
are reduced by the actions of advisers (e.g. pressure to accept job offers) and changes in
benefits and tax credits (e.g. ‘incentives’). The stated aim of ALMPs is to increase the
number of available job seekers, encourage wage moderation and increase labour flexibility.
The Jobs Study of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD),
for example, suggested that ‘active measures may lead to wage moderation by strengthening
the ability of ‘outsiders’, particularly the long-term unemployed and first-time job-seekers, to
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compete more effectively for jobs’ (1994: 36). Documents like this come close to embedding
the recognition of capital’s need for an industrial reserve army within social policy, even if
combined with other goals and discourses (e.g. Levitas 1998) and in countries such as
Germany that supposedly accept core principles of the International Labour Organization
such as ‘labour is not a commodity’ (Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944).
Intentions and effects, however, are two different things. The rollback of the welfare
state is not just the reverse of its build-up (Pierson 1994), and efforts to activate the reserve
army mechanism are not generally successful. The rest of this article makes the case that the
failure of these policies to achieve their stated objectives does not necessarily prevent re-
commodification effects.
Discipline and precarity
The literature on precarity is the terrain on which re-commodification has to be understood,
since the ‘precariat’ is the group most vulnerable to welfare reforms. It faces, by definition,
chronic job and income insecurity, weak welfare entitlements, and a back-and-forth motion
between employment and unemployment statuses; consequently, itis more exposed to ALMP
schemes than other workers. Recent English-language debates have taken place over whether
there is aprecariat’ with special characteristics and the spread of ‘precarity’i.e. perceived
insecurity and deteriorating job quality – across the quasi-permanent workforce (Doogan
2009; Standing 2011; Kretsos and Livanos 2013; review symposium on Standing’s book in
WES issue 26:4). The present analysis moves beyond the terms of this debate. While the
market discipline of ALMPs exacerbates both the vulnerability of the precariat and the
insecurity of quasi-permanent workers, the two groups and their experiences of precarity are
not equivalent, especially when it comes to their experiences with the welfare state.
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Robert Castel (2003, first published in French in 1995) provides an important starting
point for the present analysis and the French- and German-language sociological treatments
of precarity. Drawing on Durkheim, he argues that, starting in the late 19th century, wage
labour across Western Europe changed from an engine of mass vulnerability to one of social
integration, as a group of job-holders formed with quasi-permanent jobs, collective
agreements and social insurance benefits. Against the historical backdrop of wage labour
giving rise to this 'zone of integration', he defines two additional groups, also in terms of
work and non-work statuses: vulnerability (dealt with by German sociologists as a precariat
moving back and forth between these statuses, while failing to achieve anything like social
integration through work [Brinkmann et al 2006]) and disaffiliation (known more statically in
policy discourse as social exclusion, which involves remaining outside the world of wage
labour). The zone of vulnerability captures a transitional state between work and non-work
and is shaped by the institutions that regulate transitions between the two. Castel argues that
welfare administration shapes the vulnerable population through its 'handicapology', which he
defines as the classification of individuals in terms of barriers to paid work. Job seekers are
defined in terms of these barriers, he argues, and activation becomes a ‘Sisyphean task’.
Building on this conceptualization, German sociologists of work have evaluated
Germany’s Hartz reformsi by examining the effects of strict conditionality on the work
orientations and behaviour of claimants (rre et al 2013). Using semi-structured qualitative
interviews with 99 claimants (in some cases with one or two follow-up interviews) and 95
institutional actors in four locales, they depict participantswork orientations, job-seeking
activities, and interactions with jobcentre staff, as well as their transitions between jobs,
activation schemes, and unemployment. They find little evidence of upward mobility through
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activation schemes and much evidence of circular mobility, in which precarity becomes a
permanent state.
Welfare administrators play an important role in this process, rre et al argue, by re-
framing unemployment as a competition, through situations in which claimants are tested and
have to prove that they are eligible and fulfilling their duties (e.g. through job applications,
make-work schemes, and means tests). While some claimants accept these control practices,
others see them as a bureaucratic apparatus of coercion that privileges some, devalues others,
and stigmatizes anyone subject to them for an extended period of time. In popular German
parlance, Hartz IV refers to a law reforming the benefits system; a means-tested benefit
outside of the unemployment insurance system but (usually) subject to strict work
requirements; and a group of five million individuals receiving this benefit.
While the principle behind the reforms is to stimulate job search activities rre et al
(2013) observe numerous cases in which claimants work hard to escape precarity, but find
their dealings with the welfare apparatus demotivating and exhausting. Here, activation
policy reinforces the problem that it is supposed to solve. They also find numerous examples
of people so motivated to escape from the benefits system that they sacrifice income by
taking jobs paying below benefit levels. Rather than improved incentives for upward mobility
through work, the authors observe considerable desperation to leave the benefits system,
which gives employers an extra incentive to create low-paying jobs.2
For the German school, the public policies that reproduce the vulnerability of the
precariat do not merely work through unleashing labour market competition (Brinkmann et al
2 In January 2015 Germany introduced a statutory minimum wage of €8.50 that covered all industries. The
effect of this rule remains to be seen, however, since long-term unemployed (i.e. those who have been jobless
for at least 12 months) are not covered during the first 6 months of their employment.
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2006; Scherschel et al 2012; Dörre et al 2013). Activation involves detailed state intervention
in individual transitions back and forth between work and non-work statuses. This directly
affects people in the benefits system, but also has disciplinary effects in Germany’s industrial
‘core’, since workers with permanent contracts of employment may face redundancy and
insertion into the Hartz IV stratum. This ‘zone of endangered integration’ facing this threat of
downward social mobility is estimated, based on nationally representative worker surveys, at
one third of Germany’s workforce (Brinkmann et al 2006: 57, 61-62).
The dysfunctions of activation
While the German-language literature provides rich insights into the effects of ALMPs, much
English-language literature examines their effectiveness. One set of problems has to do with
the labour process in welfare administration. While front-line workers need discretion and
time to deal with the complex needs of their jobless clients, they face limited resources,
monitoring, speedups and exhaustion (Brodkin 2007; Foster and Hoggett 1999).
Marketization exacerbates these problems, since the coming and going of competitively
tendered government contracts undermines relationships between staff and clients, and
payment by results makes managers shift staff time towards clients who are easier to place in
jobs (creaming-and-parking effects) (Bredgaard and Larsen 2008). Competition between
providers, furthermore, undermines cooperative relationships required by certain complex
services (Hipp and Warner 2008). These dysfunctions undermine the ability of staff to meet
needs (due to poor coordination and pressures for ‘parking’), while forcing them to put
pressure on job-ready clients to take any job offer (due to monitoring of outcomes and
financial pressures for creaming).
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Employer responses to ALMPs are not straightforward. One problem is
discrimination and scepticism among employers about the suitability of lone parents, people
with disabilities, older unemployed people and younger unemployed people for job openings
(Holzer and Stoll 2001) and the separation of ALMP participation from mainstream
recruitment (Lee et al 1991). While ALMPs supposedly offer employers flexibility, the
welfare state's 'handicapology' (Castel 2003) flags up complex problems and indicates
workers who do not necessarily behave ‘flexibly’. Punitive welfare reforms, furthermore,
may create disincentives for employees in secure jobs to quit, thereby reducing the quality
and quantity of job vacancies (Knuth 2012: 581-2).
Even when employers do recruit using ALMPs, it may not lead to increased labour-
market participation. Employers may employ workers on schemes rather than hiring staff
(substitution effects), use the competitive advantage gained to expand market share and
prevent job creation by competitor firms (displacement effects) or through ALMPs hire the
same individuals whom they might have hired on the open labour market (deadweight
effects). Programme evaluators have long been aware of these effects (OECD 1994; Mizen
2003: 91), and a German government review of evaluation evidence has found at least one of
them in eight of the ten main activation ‘instruments’ (Koch et al 2011). ALMPs may thus
reduce the quality of jobs without increasing their quantity.
The resistance of those being activated, whether through the individual avoidance of
low-wage jobs (Lindsay and McQuaid 2004), collective activism (Reese 2011), or labour-
market exit, is a third issue. Since 2012 British claimant groups have resisted mandatory
work-for-benefit schemes using social media, picketing of employers, and a high-profile
lawsuit. Their victories include the public withdrawal of several large charities and high-
street retailers from these schemes (Boycott Workfare 2014).
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The difficulties of organizing welfare claimants are many. Unemployment is a
transitory status, which makes 'unemployed activists' are less likely to form stable
organizations than, for example, workers in quasi-permanent employment. Groups that
sustain themselves may be ‘becalmed’ as activists become professional social workers with
salaries paid by activation schemes (Royall 2009). Punitive welfare reforms can also corrode
the solidarity between job holders and the unemployed by reinforcing negative stereotypes
about the latter (Soss and Schram 2007). While the trade union interest in preventing
recommodifying reforms is evident, any defence of social protection takes place against a
backdrop of union decline (Waddington 2005) and unions sometimes view participation in
ALMPs as an opportunity to influence policy or recruit members (Johnston et al 2013).
Consequently, few examples exist of claimants forcing governments to reinstate lost welfare
entitlements.
Conclusion
Again and again, the administrative machinery comes up against its own dysfunctions, the
human material that it is supposed to transform, and weak employer demand. ALMPs would
not succeed as a policy to increase employment even if they did succeed in ratcheting up
labour market competition in the sense of the reserve army mechanism. The re-
commodification effect of workfarist ALMPs and the resulting wage restraint is itself
dysfunctional, since it reinforces weak consumer demand, a cause of slow growth in
capitalism (Vidal 2013; Stockhammer and Onaran 2013).
Studying ALMPs critically can enrich work and employment research in a few ways.
Market discipline translates into workplace discipline through the well-known mechanism of
insecurity, which affects both the precariat and workers in stable employment (Brinkmann et
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al 2006; Doogan 2009). ALMPs also engender state intervention in the workplace through
job-placement schemes, employer engagement, and (with the UK’s Universal Credit)
conditions of in-work benefits. Workfarist ALMPs can be found in a variety of national
‘regime types’ (Eichhorst and Konle-Seidl 2008; Scherschel et al 2012), and it remains open
what determines national variations in policy and their effects. Since international-
comparative datasets do not capture many of the re-commodifying dimensions of ALMPs,
such a comparative analysis would require considerable empirical work.
Finally, resistance by claimants and workers in this area is important and under-
researched. Trade unions do find it difficult to work with claimants and organize the
precariat, but the tightening of market discipline is also contrary to their core members’
interests. Analyses of resistance success stories would be a welcome antidote to policy
success stories.
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i The Hartz reforms were four ‘Laws for Modern Labor Market Services’, passed and implemented in 2003-5
under Schroeder’s Red-Green government. While allowing new temporary and low-wage employment
contracts, they overhauled welfare administration to promote activation, reduced workers’ entitlements to
insurance-based unemployment benefits, and introduced a means-tested unemployed benefit for those
outside the insurance system.
... Presto, la scelta del modello statunitense si è mostrata paradossale o neoliberale, quantomeno al cospetto degli studiosi più critici che hanno notato come molti dei destinatari del programma "esemplare" oscillassero tra il mondo del lavoro e quello delle prestazioni sociali, specialmente nel caso di famiglie numerose o delle madri single con bassi livelli di istruzione e limitate esperienze di lavoro (Cheng 2003;Hong, Wernet 2007). Persino i sostenitori della welfare reform hanno più volte sottolineato come i casi di successo tipo il "Wisconsin Works" o il "GAIN" in California siano stato il frutto di una eccezionale crescita del settore dei servizi e di un mercato del lavoro locale particolarmente florido (Greenberg et al. 2005;Greer 2016 (Brenner 2006, Ferrera 2008. Sarebbe tuttavia sbagliato non riconoscere come gli Stati nazionali abbiano sempre continuato ad esercitare importanti influenze "nel mezzo", nonostante la retorica della propria impotenza, una severa autocritica rispetto alle politiche di welfare del passato e una spinta a favore della sperimentazione locale. ...
... oGreer (2016) hanno interpretato il passaggio dal Welfare State al Workfare State come un passaggio dalle spinte di de-mercificazione del lavoro, che hanno caratterizzato i "trent'anni gloriosi" nei diversi mondi del Welfare Capitalism(Esping-Andersen 1990), a quelle di ri-mercificazione del lavoro. In questo passaggio, lo Stato cessa di essere un attore della de-mercificazione che protegge i lavoratori dalle forze anche erosive del mercato, diventando un attore della ri-mercificazione che è devoto alle esigenze del mercato in un'economia capitalista. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Un'etnografia critica incentrata sulla voce dei beneficiari del Reddito di Cittadinanza in un’area marginale, ossia sulla voce di quei soggetti che vivono in una condizione di doppia marginalità – personale e territoriale, nella società.
... Since the 1980s, the German government has implemented a series of reforms that aim to reduce the rigidity of its labor market and welfare institutions and increase competitiveness in the global market. First, with the 'Kohl era ' (1982-98) and, then, with the 'Hartz reform' , German governments have progressively pursued a shift towards a 'workfarist' system that has altered 'the institutional regulation of the labor market by re-commodifying labor' (Greer 2016). This strategy has often been accused of contributing to the de-standardization of the employment relationship and creating a 'zone of vulnerability' occupied prevalently by precarious workers (Dörre 2014;. ...
Thesis
What are the consequences of unemployment and precarious employment for individuals' health in Europe? What are the moderating factors that may offset (or increase) the health consequences of labor-market risks? How do the effects of these risks vary across different contexts, which differ in their institutional and cultural settings? Does gender, regarded as a social structure, play a role, and how? To answer these questions is the aim of my cumulative thesis. This study aims to advance our knowledge about the health consequences that unemployment and precariousness cause over the life course. In particular, I investigate how several moderating factors, such as gender, the family, and the broader cultural and institutional context, may offset or increase the impact of employment instability and insecurity on individual health. In my first paper, 'The buffering role of the family in the relationship between job loss and self-perceived health: Longitudinal results from Europe, 2004-2011', I and my co-authors measure the causal effect of job loss on health and the role of the family and welfare states (regimes) as moderating factors. Using EU-SILC longitudinal data (2004-2011), we estimate the probability of experiencing 'bad health' following a transition to unemployment by applying linear probability models and undertake separate analyses for men and women. Firstly, we measure whether changes in the independent variable 'job loss' lead to changes in the dependent variable 'self-rated health' for men and women separately. Then, by adding into the model different interaction terms, we measure the moderating effect of the family, both in terms of emotional and economic support, and how much it varies across different welfare regimes. As an identification strategy, we first implement static fixed-effect panel models, which control for time-varying observables and indirect health selection—i.e., constant unobserved heterogeneity. Secondly, to control for reverse causality and path dependency, we implement dynamic fixed-effect panel models, adding a lagged dependent variable to the model. We explore the role of the family by focusing on close ties within households: we consider the presence of a stable partner and his/her working status as a source of social and economic support. According to previous literature, having a partner should reduce the stress from adverse events, thanks to the symbolic and emotional dimensions that such a relationship entails, regardless of any economic benefits. Our results, however, suggest that benefits linked to the presence of a (female) partner also come from the financial stability that (s)he can provide in terms of a second income. Furthermore, we find partners' employment to be at least as important as the mere presence of the partner in reducing the negative effect of job loss on the individual's health by maintaining the household's standard of living and decreasing economic strain on the family. Our results are in line with previous research, which has highlighted that some people cope better than others with adverse life circumstances, and the support provided by the family is a crucial resource in that regard. We also reported an important interaction between the family and the welfare state in moderating the health consequences of unemployment, showing how the compensation effect of the family varies across welfare regimes. The family plays a decisive role in cushioning the adverse consequences of labor market risks in Southern and Eastern welfare states, characterized by less developed social protection systems and –especially the Southern – high level of familialism. The first paper also found important gender differences concerning job loss, family and welfare effects. Of particular interest is the evidence suggesting that health selection works differently for men and women, playing a more prominent role for women than for men in explaining the relationship between job loss and self-perceived health. The second paper, 'Gender roles and selection mechanisms across contexts: A comparative analysis of the relationship between unemployment, self-perceived health, and gender.' investigates more in-depth the gender differential in health driven by unemployment. Being a highly contested issue in literature, we aim to study whether men are more penalized than women or the other way around and the mechanisms that may explain the gender difference. To do that, we rely on two theoretical arguments: the availability of alternative roles and social selection. The first argument builds on the idea that men and women may compensate for the detrimental health consequences of unemployment through the commitment to 'alternative roles,' which can provide for the resources needed to fulfill people's socially constructed needs. Notably, the availability of alternative options depends on the different positions that men and women have in society. Further, we merge the availability of the 'alternative roles' argument with the health selection argument. We assume that health selection could be contingent on people's social position as defined by gender and, thus, explain the gender differential in the relationship between unemployment and health. Ill people might be less reluctant to fall or remain (i.e., self-select) in unemployment if they have alternative roles. In Western societies, women generally have more alternative roles than men and thus more discretion in their labor market attachment. Therefore, health selection should be stronger for them, explaining why unemployment is less menace for women than for their male counterparts. Finally, relying on the idea of different gender regimes, we extended these arguments to comparison across contexts. For example, in contexts where being a caregiver is assumed to be women's traditional and primary roles and the primary breadwinner role is reserved to men, unemployment is less stigmatized, and taking up alternative roles is more socially accepted for women than for men (Hp.1). Accordingly, social (self)selection should be stronger for women than for men in traditional contexts, where, in the case of ill-health, the separation from work is eased by the availability of alternative roles (Hp.2). By focusing on contexts that are representative of different gender regimes, we implement a multiple-step comparative approach. Firstly, by using EU-SILC longitudinal data (2004-2015), our analysis tests gender roles and selection mechanisms for Sweden and Italy, representing radically different gender regimes, thus providing institutional and cultural variation. Then, we limit institutional heterogeneity by focusing on Germany and comparing East- and West-Germany and older and younger cohorts—for West-Germany (SOEP data 1995-2017). Next, to assess the differential impact of unemployment for men and women, we compared (unemployed and employed) men with (unemployed and employed) women. To do so, we calculate predicted probabilities and average marginal effect from two distinct random-effects probit models. Our first step is estimating random-effects models that assess the association between unemployment and self-perceived health, controlling for observable characteristics. In the second step, our fully adjusted model controls for both direct and indirect selection. We do this using dynamic correlated random-effects (CRE) models. Further, based on the fully adjusted model, we test our hypotheses on alternative roles (Hp.1) by comparing several contexts – models are estimated separately for each context. For this hypothesis, we pool men and women and include an interaction term between unemployment and gender, which has the advantage to allow for directly testing whether gender differences in the effect of unemployment exist and are statistically significant. Finally, we test the role of selection mechanisms (Hp.2), using the KHB method to compare coefficients across nested nonlinear models. Specifically, we test the role of selection for the relationship between unemployment and health by comparing the partially-adjusted and fully-adjusted models. To allow selection mechanisms to operate differently between genders, we estimate separate models for men and women. We found support to our first hypotheses—the context where people are embedded structures the relationship between unemployment, health, and gender. We found no gendered effect of unemployment on health in the egalitarian context of Sweden. Conversely, in the traditional context of Italy, we observed substantive and statistically significant gender differences in the effect of unemployment on bad health, with women suffering less than men. We found the same pattern for comparing East and West Germany and younger and older cohorts in West Germany. On the contrary, our results did not support our theoretical argument on social selection. We found that in Sweden, women are more selected out of employment than men. In contrast, in Italy, health selection does not seem to be the primary mechanism behind the gender differential—Italian men and women seem to be selected out of employment to the same extent. Namely, we do not find any evidence that health selection is stronger for women in more traditional countries (Hp2), despite the fact that the institutional and the cultural context would offer them a more comprehensive range of 'alternative roles' relative to men. Moreover, our second hypothesis is also rejected in the second and third comparisons, where the cross-country heterogeneity is reduced to maximize cultural differences within the same institutional context. Further research that addresses selection into inactivity is needed to evaluate the interplay between selection and social roles across gender regimes. While the health consequences of unemployment have been on the research agenda for a pretty long time, the interest in precarious employment—defined as the linking of the vulnerable worker to work that is characterized by uncertainty and insecurity concerning pay, the stability of the work arrangement, limited access to social benefits, and statutory protections—has emerged only later. Since the 80s, scholars from different disciplines have raised concerns about the social consequences of de-standardization of employment relationships. However, while work has become undoubtedly more precarious, very little is known about its causal effect on individual health and the role of gender as a moderator. These questions are at the core of my third paper : 'Bad job, bad health? A longitudinal analysis of the interaction between precariousness, gender and self-perceived health in Germany'. Herein, I investigate the multidimensional nature of precarious employment and its causal effect on health, particularly focusing on gender differences. With this paper, I aim at overcoming three major shortcomings of earlier studies: The first one regards the cross-sectional nature of data that prevents the authors from ruling out unobserved heterogeneity as a mechanism for the association between precarious employment and health. Indeed, several unmeasured individual characteristics—such as cognitive abilities—may confound the relationship between precarious work and health, leading to biased results. Secondly, only a few studies have directly addressed the role of gender in shaping the relationship. Moreover, available results on the gender differential are mixed and inconsistent: some found precarious employment being more detrimental for women's health, while others found no gender differences or stronger negative association for men. Finally, previous attempts to an empirical translation of the employment precariousness (EP) concept have not always been coherent with their theoretical framework. EP is usually assumed to be a multidimensional and continuous phenomenon; it is characterized by different dimensions of insecurity that may overlap in the same job and lead to different "degrees of precariousness." However, researchers have predominantly focused on one-dimensional indicators—e.g., temporary employment, subjective job insecurity—to measure EP and study the association with health. Besides the fact that this approach partially grasps the phenomenon's complexity, the major problem is the inconsistency of evidence that it has produced. Indeed, this line of inquiry generally reveals an ambiguous picture, with some studies finding substantial adverse effects of temporary over permanent employment, while others report only minor differences. To measure the (causal) effect of precarious work on self-rated health and its variation by gender, I focus on Germany and use four waves from SOEP data (2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015). Germany is a suitable context for my study. Indeed, since the 1980s, the labor market and welfare system have been restructured in many ways to increase the German economy's competitiveness in the global market. As a result, the (standard) employment relationship has been de-standardized: non-standard and atypical employment arrangements—i.e., part-time work, fixed-term contracts, mini-jobs, and work agencies—have increased over time while wages have lowered, even among workers with standard work. In addition, the power of unions has also fallen over the last three decades, leaving a large share of workers without collective protection. Because of this process of de-standardization, the link between wage employment and strong social rights has eroded, making workers more powerless and more vulnerable to labor market risks than in the past. EP refers to this uneven distribution of power in the employment relationship, which can be detrimental to workers' health. Indeed, by affecting individuals' access to power and other resources, EP puts precarious workers at risk of experiencing health shocks and influences their ability to gain and accumulate health advantages (Hp.1). Further, the focus on Germany allows me to investigate my second research question on the gender differential. Germany is usually regarded as a traditionalist gender regime: a context characterized by a configuration of roles. Here, being a caregiver is assumed to be women's primary role, whereas the primary breadwinner role is reserved for men. Although many signs of progress have been made over the last decades towards a greater equalization of opportunities and more egalitarianism, the breadwinner model has barely changed towards a modified version. Thus, women usually take on the double role of workers (the so-called secondary earner) and caregivers, and men still devote most of their time to paid work activities. Moreover, the overall upward trend towards more egalitarian gender ideologies has leveled off over the last decades, moving notably towards more traditional gender ideologies. In this setting, two alternative hypotheses are possible. Firstly, I assume that the negative relationship between EP and health is stronger for women than for men. This is because women are systematically more disadvantaged than men in the public and private spheres of life, having less access to formal and informal sources of power. These gender-related power asymmetries may interact with EP-related power asymmetries resulting in a stronger effect of EP on women's health than on men's health (Hp.2). An alternative way of looking at the gender differential is to consider the interaction that precariousness might have with men's and women's gender identities. According to this view, the negative relationship between EP and health is weaker for women than for men (Hp.2a). In a society with a gendered division of labor and a strong link between masculine identities and stable and well-rewarded job—i.e., a job that confers the role of primary family provider—a male worker with precarious employment might violate the traditional male gender role. Men in precarious jobs may perceive themselves (and by others) as possessing a socially undesirable characteristic, which conflicts with the stereotypical idea of themselves as the male breadwinner. Engaging in behaviors that contradict stereotypical gender identity may decrease self-esteem and foster feelings of inferiority, helplessness, and jealousy, leading to poor health. I develop a new indicator of EP that empirically translates a definition of EP as a multidimensional and continuous phenomenon. I assume that EP is a latent construct composed of seven dimensions of insecurity chosen according to the theory and previous empirical research: Income insecurity, social insecurity, legal insecurity, employment insecurity, working-time insecurity, representation insecurity, worker's vulnerability. The seven dimensions are proxied by eight indicators available in the four waves of the SOEP dataset. The EP composite indicator is obtained by performing a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) on the eight indicators. This approach aims to construct a summary scale in which all dimensions contribute jointly to the measured experience of precariousness and its health impact. Further, the relationship between EP and 'general self-perceived health' is estimated by applying ordered probit random-effects estimators and calculating average marginal effect (further AME). Then, to control for unobserved heterogeneity, I implement correlated random-effects models that add to the model the within-individual means of the time-varying independent variables. To test the significance of the gender differential, I add an interaction term between EP and gender in the fully adjusted model in the pooled sample. My correlated random-effects models showed EP's negative and substantial 'effect' on self-perceived health for both men and women. Although nonsignificant, the evidence seems in line with previous cross-sectional literature. It supports the hypothesis that employment precariousness could be detrimental to workers' health. Further, my results showed the crucial role of unobserved heterogeneity in shaping the health consequences of precarious employment. This is particularly important as evidence accumulates, yet it is still mostly descriptive. Moreover, my results revealed a substantial difference among men and women in the relationship between EP and health: when EP increases, the risk of experiencing poor health increases much more for men than for women. This evidence falsifies previous theory according to whom the gender differential is contingent on the structurally disadvantaged position of women in western societies. In contrast, they seem to confirm the idea that men in precarious work could experience role conflict to a larger extent than women, as their self-standard is supposed to be the stereotypical breadwinner worker with a good and well-rewarded job. Finally, results from the multiple correspondence analysis contribute to the methodological debate on precariousness, showing that a multidimensional and continuous indicator can express a latent variable of EP. All in all, complementarities are revealed in the results of unemployment and employment precariousness, which have two implications: Policy-makers need to be aware that the total costs of unemployment and precariousness go far beyond the economic and material realm penetrating other fundamental life domains such as individual health. Moreover, they need to balance the trade-off between protecting adequately unemployed people and fostering high-quality employment in reaction to the highlighted market pressures. In this sense, the further development of a (universalistic) welfare state certainly helps mitigate the adverse health effects of unemployment and, therefore, the future costs of both individuals' health and welfare spending. In addition, the presence of a working partner is crucial for reducing the health consequences of employment instability. Therefore, policies aiming to increase female labor market participation should be promoted, especially in those contexts where the welfare state is less developed. Moreover, my results support the significance of taking account of a gender perspective in health research. The findings of the three articles show that job loss, unemployment, and precarious employment, in general, have adverse effects on men's health but less or absent consequences for women's health. Indeed, this suggests the importance of labor and health policies that consider and further distinguish the specific needs of the male and female labor force in Europe. Nevertheless, a further implication emerges: the health consequences of employment instability and de-standardization need to be investigated in light of the gender arrangements and the transforming gender relationships in specific cultural and institutional contexts. My results indeed seem to suggest that women's health advantage may be a transitory phenomenon, contingent on the predominant gendered institutional and cultural context. As the structural difference between men's and women's position in society is eroded, egalitarianism becomes the dominant normative status, so will probably be the gender difference in the health consequences of job loss and precariousness. Therefore, while gender equality in opportunities and roles is a desirable aspect for contemporary societies and a political goal that cannot be postponed further, this thesis raises a further and maybe more crucial question: What kind of equality should be pursued to provide men and women with both good life quality and equal chances in the public and private spheres? In this sense, I believe that social and labor policies aiming to reduce gender inequality in society should focus on improving women's integration into the labor market, implementing policies targeting men, and facilitating their involvement in the private sphere of life. Equal redistribution of social roles could activate a crucial transformation of gender roles and the cultural models that sustain and still legitimate gender inequality in Western societies.
... Whilst ALMPs may not be specifically intended to eradicate welfare payments, ALMPs do enact institutional changes that intensify control over job seekers and makes them more compliant towards lower-paid jobs (Greer 2016). In this regard the intention of ALMPs 'is to increase the number of available job seekers, encourage wage moderation and increase labour flexibility' (Greer 2016: 166). ...
Article
This study examines the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in a UK fresh food factory. The UK food supply chain, like other lower paid and lower skilled sectors, is heavily reliant on this precarious form of employment and the voice of these workers has not been adequately heard. Whilst temporary agency work has been subject to extensive research, few accounts take into consideration the view from below to consider the overall lived experiences of these workers. This is surprising and, given the significance of this form of employment, warrants further examination. In this study I give an ethnographic account of the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in a salad processing factory, focusing on three aspects. The first aspect considers precarious work and employment insecurity and explores the experiences of temporary agency workers as they seek work and then aim to maintain work, whilst the second aspect examines these agency workers as they undertake work. These temporary agency workers experience multi-faceted relationships whilst at work - which is the third aspect of their lived experiences that this study examines. The ethnographic approach that I adopted for this study combined participant observations and semi structured interviews to provide valuable insights into the work experiences of temporary agency workers. As the motivation for this study was to further understand the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in the food supply chain, an ethnographic approach was necessary as we cannot really learn a great deal about what actually happens or about how things work in organizations without undertaking the intensive and close-up participative research that is central to an ethnographic approach. By examining the lived experiences of temporary agency workers in this way, this thesis makes an important contribution to the literature in the following areas. First, I add to our knowledge of temporary agency work by highlighting and explaining how temporary agency workers exhibit individual agency to lessen the effects of precarious work and employment insecurity. Second, many temporary agency workers carry out intense work and this thesis contributes to the literature on temporary agency work by examining how the combined effect of temporality and hard work intensifies their workplace experiences. Third, the relationships experienced by temporary agency workers from within a blended workforce have not been adequately examined from their perspective and this thesis contributes to the literature in this area. Whilst blending suggests a workplace which is smooth and homogenous, I introduce the concept of the mixed-up organisation to appropriately reflect that life on the diverse factory shop floor is far more complicated. Finally, this study reveals how discreet acts of resistance are enacted by temporary agency workers, and in doing so further highlights that these workers possess a surprising degree of individual agency.
... Marčeta draws on the Marxist concept of relative surplus population or the 'disposable industrial reserve army' (Marx, 1976: 784) to describe the populations from which platforms draw. This includes those who are both excluded and/or have precarious access to standard employment and welfare state provision (Greer, 2016). These populations are strategically included and excluded from standardised wage-labour according to the needs of capital, and their systemically engendered low standard of living creates 'a mass of human material always ready for exploitation by capital in the interests of capital's own changing valorisation requirements' (Marx, 1976: 784). ...
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The critical platform studies literature has built a compelling picture of how techniques like worker (mis)classification, algorithmic management and workforce atomisation lie at the heart of how ‘work on-demand via apps’ actively restructure labour. Much of this emerging scholarship identifies that platform workforces are predominantly comprised of migrant and racially minoritised workers. However, few studies theorise migration and race as structuring logics of the platform model and the precarity it engenders. This paper addresses this gap by exploring how the platform economy – specifically work on-demand via apps – both shapes and is shaped by historically contingent contexts of racialisation, and their constitutive processes such as embodiment and immigration policy/rhetoric. Beyond identifying the over-representation of racial minorities in the platform economy, it argues that processes of racialisation have been crucial at every stage of the platform economy's rise to dominance, and therefore constitutes a key organising principle of platform capitalism – hence the term ‘racial platform capitalism’. In doing so, this paper draws on the racial capitalism literature, to situate key platform techniques such as worker (mis)classification and algorithmic management as forms of racial practice, deployed to (re-)organise surplus urban labour-power following the 2008 financial crisis. This framework will be explored through an ethnographic study of Uber's rise in London. Through this, the paper demonstrates a co-constitutive relationship, where the conditions of minoritised workers in a global city like London post-2008, and the political economy of platform companies can be said to have co-produced one another.
... This study is important as it has an impact on inequality and its reduction (Aigbokhan, 2017); weakening inter-generational poverty (Musa et al., 2019); making qualitative career leaps (Drobnic, 2019); impacting future income (Bologna Pavlik and Neto, 2019); impact on future unemployment and underemployment (Hendren, 2017) or lower quality jobs subject to unstable (Greer, 2016) wasted human resources, high-risk behaviour; and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and focuses on the creation of decent jobs and employment. Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following research questions: ...
Article
Purpose The upsurge in global youth migration remains a major concern for policymakers, politicians and academia at large. Given the emerging interests in youth migration and informal jobs in cities around the world, this study aims to establish the barriers limiting the transition of migrant youths, in informal settings, into formal jobs and the consequent impact on their livelihood. Design/methodology/approach Leveraging the push-pull approach of the functionalist migration school, this study uses a primary research design. A structured questionnaire was administered among 150 migrant youths who were selected across informal settings in Lagos, using a convenient sampling technique. Then, a structured face-to-face interview was later conducted among 40 selected migrant youths. Findings There is a skill mismatch between the competence of the youths and the requirements of firms in the formal sector, and the migrant youths are largely disenfranchised from opportunities that flow within certain networks. Another critical constraint includes language barrier, ethnicity and religious biases by certain employers. Most migrant youths are economically better off compared to where they came from, even though they are yet to exit the poverty trap. Originality/value This study critically examined the challenges faced by the migrant youth population in Lagos, Nigeria, in their bid to transition from informal employment to formal employment.
... The protective role of IR institutions is often conceptualized through the lens of decommodification (Bosch, 2004;Greer, 2016;Herman et al., 2021;. Following Esping-Andersen's (1990) influential use of this concept in his analysis of welfare states, decommodification "signals a citizen's relative independence from pure market forces; it captures one important dimension of freedom and constraint in the everyday life of advanced capitalism." ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused labor market disruptions at an unprecedented scale and is akin to a stress test for industrial relations institutions. Drawing on a large-scale (n = 6111) study of German employees, we empirically investigate whether and how the two institutions comprising Germany's dual system of employee representation—works councils and collective bargaining—have delivered on their protective potential and mitigated the impact of the pandemic on workers. We demonstrate that employees in representative environments fare better on a range of protective outcomes.
... Third, the continuing pursuit of neo-liberal policies, defined here as the development and implementation of policies favoring a progressive withdrawal of the state in favour of market forces, has been accentuating precarity for a large segment of the population. For instance, retrenchment has been described as facilitating a re-commodification of labour and, as a consequence, favouring the growth of precarity within the labour force (Greer, 2015). A complementary and more recent literature focuses on the consequences of austerity policies that have been deployed in response to the 2008 economic crisis. ...
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With an aging population, have federal and provincial governments acknowledged the diversity of the policy needs of older adults? This contribution analyzes administrative and policy documents across ministries to study the frequency and the depth of engagement involving older adults with a disability, older immigrants, and those living in poverty. Precarity received marginal treatment with very limited discussions combining aging in relation to disability, immigration and migration, or poverty. Most documents focused on poverty. Disability and aging are discussed in parallel and rarely in conjunction with aging. These findings suggest a low level of priority for precarity and aging. Compte tenu d'une population vieillissante, la question est de savoir si les gouvernements fédéral et provinciaux ont reconnu la diversité des orientations politiques concernant les personnes âgées. Cet article analyse les documents administratifs et politiques de tous les ministères pour étudier la fréquence et l'engagement de priorité concernant les personnes âgées handicapées, les immigrants âgés et les personnes vivant dans la pauvreté. La précarité a fait l'objet d'un traitement marginal avec très peu de discussions associant le vieillissement au handicap, à l'immigration et la migration, ou la pauvreté. La plupart étaient axées sur la pauvreté. Le handicap et le vieillissement sont discutés en parallèle et rarement en conjonction avec le vieillissement. Ces résultats indiquent un faible niveau de priorité pour la précarité et le vieillissement.
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This article highlights the weakness of the UK's occupational health and safety infrastructure exposed by COVID‐19 pandemic. Utilising a political economy perspective, it captures the critical role of workplace union safety representatives in mitigating risk and contesting the expropriation of health and recommodification of labour, specifically inadequate sick pay.
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Using case study evidence from an investigation of 'quality' initiatives and working practices in three offices within a District of the Benefits Agency (BA), this article examines the contradictory role of new public management on employees. Decentralised management, performance related pay, teamwork philosophies and the promotion of a 'customer' culture reflect a move away from a traditional civil service bureaucratic form of organisation. However, the implementation of change within local settings has brought about variations in local management approaches, work organisation and staff perceptions. The consequences of these are explored and we consider whether the BA's attempts to empower staff have been thwarted by a progressive intensification of workloads. Our research, by illustrating the importance of variations in local settings, warns of the dangers of evaluating institutional and employment change in the public sector as if it were the result of a coherent and consistent neo-liberal re-structuring strategy. Moreover, it examines reasons why some change initiatives have been unsuccessful. Finally, we identify a recent shift in emphasis within the BA which presages a move away from service quality to economy and draw some initial conclusions about the future impact on employment in this sector.
Article
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the extent and determinants of the so-called precarious employment across Europe and using different measures and based on individual’s self-assessment. Design/methodology/approach – Data on over two million workers across Europe (EU-15) from the European Union Labour Force Survey are utilised and a Heckman selection approach is adopted. Findings – About one tenth of the total European workforce is in employment relationships that could be related to precariousness. The sources of precariousness are mainly involuntary part-time and temporary work. Less prominent as a source of precariousness is job insecurity related to fear of job loss. Vulnerable groups are found to have a higher risk of precariousness while significant country variations indicate that precariousness cannot be examined in isolation of the national context. Finally, signals of previous employment inability, such as lack of past working experience, as well as the state of labour market significantly increase the risk of precarious work. Originality/value – The present study utilises a large-scale survey in order to investigate the incidence of precarious employment in a harmonised way and produce results that are comparable across EU-15 countries.
Book
(publisher's jacket blurb) Anne Gray presents a critical analysis of trends in European welfare systems and labour market policies. How and why are they changing? How do they affect the daily lives of those facing unemployment or precarious work? Gray shows how the idea of unemployment benefits as a right is evolving into a regime closer to American 'workfare’. She explains how this policy forces the unemployed into low paid, temporary or part-time jobs associated with the new `flexible’ labour market. Drawing on unemployed people’s own accounts of their experiences – in the UK, Germany, France and Belgium – Gray illustrates the job market as seen from the dole queue. She examines how the unemployed assess benefit rules and welfare-to-work programmes. Exploring the changing nature of work in Europe, Gray reveals why is there a shortage of full-time permanent jobs, what is to be done, and what the future holds for labour market regulation in Europe. Providing clear explanations about shifts in welfare policy, this book is ideal for trade unionists, activists and students, and makes an important contribution to wider debates on globalisation and the future of work.
Article
The paper provides an overview of the concept of wage-led growth, both as an analytical concept and as an economic policy strategy. At the core of our analysis is the distinction between wage-led and profit-led demand regimes. The Kaleckian tradition in macroeconomics asserts that a higher wage share will have expansionary effects. Bhaduri and Marglin (1990) generalize the model by allowing for classical mechanisms. The paper presents a two-country short run model to clarify the key concepts surrounding a wage-led vs a profit-led demand regime. It distinguishes carefully between partial and total effects and it analyses demand regimes with respect to national as well as international changes in the wage share. We also review the empirical literature. Our reading is that the available evidence indicates that demand in most economies is domestically wage-led. Changes in functional income distribution also have supply-side effects. Available evidence suggests that higher wage growth induces higher productivity growth. Neoliberalism resulted in an increase in inequality and a decline in the wage share, but growth has nowhere been based on the profit-led growth process. Rather neoliberalism has given rise to either debt-led or export-led growth regimes. The paper concludes by outlining a wage-led growth strategy and by discussing its limitations.
Conference Paper
Neoliberalism, stemming from the musings of the Mont Pelerin Society after the Second World War, meant a model of liberalization, commodification, individualism, the privatization of social policy as well as production, and – least appreciated – the systematic dismantling of institutions and mechanisms of social solidarity. From the late 1970s onwards, it meant the painful construction of a global market system, in which the globalization era was the disembedded phase of the Global Transformation, analogous to a similar phase in Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation. In both cases, the disembedded phase was dominated by financial capital, generating chronic insecurities and inequalities. But whereas Polanyi was analysing the construction of national markets, the Global Transformation is about the painful construction of a global market system. One consequence has been the emergence of a global class structure superimposed on national structures. In order to move towards a re-embedded phase, it is essential to understand the character of the class fragmentation, and to conceptualize the emerging mass class-in-the-making, the precariat. This is a controversial concept, largely because traditional Marxists dispute its class character. However, it is analytically valuable to differentiate it, since it has distinctive relations of production, relations of distribution and relations to the state. It is still a class-in-the-making rather than a class-for-itself. But it is the new dangerous class because it is a force for transformation, rejecting both labourist social democracy and neoliberalism. It has a distinctive consciousness, although it is this that holds it back from being sufficiently a class-for-itself. It is still divided, being at war with itself. However, it has moved out of its primitive rebel phase, and in the city squares around the world is setting a new progressive agenda based on its insecurities and aspirations.