Monthly Archives: February 2017

Understanding the implications of the global growth of non-standard work

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Calum Carson reflects on his input into a major new research report by the International Labour Organisation on the growth of non-standard forms of employment around the world.

During the past few decades, a key debate has emerged in the work and employment research field as to whether the traditional laws and conventions that regulate employment and the employer-employee relationship have been irrevocably transformed by the rise of a number of new, “non-standard” forms of employment (NSFE). While this has long been a major issue of contention these developments are now being taken seriously by major global actors such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The continued growth of NSFE and its implications for those employed in such roles are the key focus of a major new report launched this month by the ILO, which highlights the policies needed to improve the quality of non-standard jobs. The report finds that there has been a rise in non-standard forms of employment globally, to the extent of which that they are now, in the words of ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, Deborah Greenfield, “a widespread feature of contemporary labour markets.”

Such non-standard forms of employment include temporary roles; part-time work; temporary agency work; “micro jobs”; the misclassification of individuals in certain roles as “independent contractors” (otherwise known as disguised employment relationships); and dependent self-employment. In Britain in particular, the growth in the number of workers employed on zero-hour contracts reflects the rise of these new forms of employment, with over 903,000 individuals (2.9% of the entire workforce) employed under such contracts. Additionally, a comprehensive analysis published in November revealed that more than one in five workers in the UK (over 7.1 million people) are employed under precarious working conditions, up from 5.3 million in just 2006.

With the continued growth in NSFE an ever-greater number of workers are unable to access certain benefits associated with a ‘traditional’ employment relationship, such as pension contributions from employers, paternity leave, and sickness and annual leave pay. Such workers also struggle to collectively organise and represent themselves in disputes with their employers via effective trade unions, as seen most recently in the UK with strikes by Deliveroo and Uber workers. The rise of these new forms of employment call for new forms of regulation in turn, both in order to address both the issues discussed above, and to ensure that the future evolution of NSFE develops in a sustainable manner for both workers and their employers.

While the ILO report does highlight the positive implications that NSFE can have in certain instances, including providing access to the labour market for disadvantaged groups and granting some flexibility to both workers and employers, it also cautions that NSFE is often associated with greater insecurity for workers. In some cases, particularly where contractual arrangements have blurred the employment relationship, there is evidence that workers have difficulty exercising their fundamental rights at work, or gaining access to social security benefits and on-the-job training. These issues also affect employers, too, by creating productivity losses and resulting in high rates of turnover in staff.

Finally, the report suggests four key policy recommendations to improve the quality of non-standard jobs: to plug regulatory gaps in the oversight of NSFE roles, in order to protect workers in a more direct manner; to strengthen collective bargaining for NSFE workers, to enable them to challenge their employers where necessary; to strengthen social protection of workers, to ensure that workers have access to the same level of benefits that workers working under a traditional employer-employee relationship do; and by instituting employment and social policies that support job creation and that accommodate workers’ needs not only for training, but also for family responsibilities such as childcare and elder care.

In the context of the growth of NSFE and its seemingly permanent embedding in labour markets across the world, this report makes an important contribution in helping to highlight the key issues surrounding this phenomena, and in how best to protect those workers operating within such roles both now and in the future. Such research is critical in helping us to fully understand and inform the continued development of these issues, as well as other changing dynamics within the world of work, employment and labour markets. The ILO, CERIC, and our colleagues across the world have a key role to play in the undertaking and dissemination of this crucial research.

Here at CERIC research into this area continues with a new study commissioned by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament, which will examine the development of the collaborative economy in Europe and the potential need for greater social protections for workers operating within it. Involving a wide number of colleagues across CERIC and under the leadership of Professor Chris Forde, this research will report back its findings to the European Parliament and the wider public in May.

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No shortcuts, organising for power

 

jane-mcalevey
Jane McAlevey

No shortcuts, organising for power
By Jane Holgate

On Tuesday 14 February 2017, Valentine’s Day, there was a large gathering at Congress House in London––the home of the UK’s Trade Union Congress. Over 150 people had forsaken candlelit dinners, wine and roses, instead choosing to attend a talk by Dr Jane McAlevey, whose new book, ‘No Shortcuts, organising for power in the new Gilded Age’, was being launched in the UK.  Professor Jane Holgate, from the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change, whose research work is around trade unions and organising strategies, was one of the organisers of this event. The room was filled with young (and old) trade unionists, community organisers, and people just interested in hearing what needs to be done to organise our communities to challenge the unequal power in society that has left many people either without jobs, or in low wage work that barely pays a living wage.

Dr McAlevey, a long-standing organiser in unions, and wider civil society, has recently completed a PhD on what is wrong with much of the ‘organising’ that is taking place today in many organisations­­––and particularly in unions. In conversation with the regional secretary of the South and Eastern TUC, who was hosting the event in conjunction with the charity Hope not Hate, she explained the crux of her argument­­––there is too great a focus on mobilising rather than organising: ‘most unions and social-change groups will say they’re organizing. I’m arguing that most are not—which is part of why we’re losing. The core difference to me is: what’s the role of the workers in the actual effort? Are the workers central to their own liberation? Are they central to the strategy to win a change in their workplace and in their communities? Or are they one teeny piece of a really complicated puzzle in which the workers’ voice and opinions are actually not decisive?’

The process of mobilizing tends to avoid involving rank and file workers, or the wider community––instead, she argues, that it tends to rely on pulling out the same already committed activists to protest, and thus is doing little to build a movement from the bottom up: ‘mobilizing is an activist-driven approach. Activists are the already converted who are not full-time professionals, or it could be full-time professionals in the movement—either one—but it’s people who are already with us. They already agree that Wall Street’s a problem; they already think that climate [change] is a problem; they already think that racism is a problem. They’re already standing with Black Lives Matter.’

Instead what is needed is deep organizing where people are expanding the base, where workers are central in organizing around their own issues that really matter to them, and where they are able to bring people along, either from their workplace, or their lived communities. What is also missing, she explained, is a proper understanding of power and how to challenge this. Dr McAlevey repeated said during the evening conversation that ‘life is a structure test’ by which she meant that there is a need to continually undertake power structure analysis when organizing to understand your opponent’s power and to assess the power there is within the communities in which you are organizing.  Only then, are you able to challenge that power and win concessions.

The problem with many trade unions campaigns today, she argued, is that they are top-down, where workers, if they come in at all, are pulled in at the end: ‘They are used as symbolic actors. They’re the face of the campaign. They’re trotted out to make testimony at the legislature about their bad boss, but they’re not actually central to the strategy. That’s the fundamental difference. The agency for change in the organizing model rests with ordinary people.’

The conversation with Dr McAlevey lasted two hours, but the evening of Valentine’s day wasn’t entirely without some reference to love. At the close, the audience was given paper hearts where they were asked to reflect on how they might organize differently reflecting on what they had heard. These hearts were put in sealed envelopes with the writer’s name and address and will be sent via post in a month’s time as a reminder of what they committed to this Valentine’s day.

‘No Shortcuts. Organising for Power in the new Gilded Age ‘can be bought from the publisher at Oxford University Press:

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/no-shortcuts-9780190624712?cc=gb&lang=en&