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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Insecure work changing society

Insecure work changing society
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

Precarious work is creating a new social class which has limited access to human, civil and cultural rights, Professor Guy Standing from the University of London told the symposium.

Standing, former director of the ILO's Socio-Economic Security Programme, analysed the wider impact of insecure work in his 2011 book The Precariat: the new dangerous class. He told the symposium that fundamental changes to the ways people work are having a profound effect on social structures, widening the gap between rich and poor and generating a large new social group which has no expectation of stable employment.

"The working class, which was the core of the traditional class system, is shrinking as more and more are tipped down into this rapidly emerging precariat," he said.

Millions of workers around the world now identify themselves as precariat - a group which has a number of defining characteristics centred around its role of providing flexible labour in an ever-changing market. This means the work it does is by nature insecure, often in multiple ways, and individuals within the group have no occupational identity.

"They don't have a narrative they can give to their lives - to say they are, or they were, or they are going to become something - so you could say they are suffering existential insecurity."

Constant changes of role mean group members must also invest a lot of time in organisational aspects of job seeking, such as retraining, filling in job application forms, queuing at job centres and shifting between work locations. These factors combine to produce a lack of stability and structure that effectively reduces members of the precariat from citizens to denizens - people with limited human, civil and cultural rights - Standing said.

On top of this, precariat members have no secure support networks. The transient nature of their jobs means there is no opportunity for reciprocal relationships to develop, but plenty of scope for both parties in a working relationship to take advantage of the other.

Although members of the precariat face common issues, the group as a whole lacks cohesion, and in some cases factions are at war with one another. Migrant groups within the precariat, for instance, face strong opposition from those who have adopted neo-fascist ideologies.

The answer to these challenges, however, is not a return to a traditional, more stable form of labour market. "I think we would be making a mistake in trying to curb flexibility. A lot of people don't mind being in the precariat because jobs are not what gives their lives meaning. What they do mind is being taken for granted. The focus should be on strengthening the bargaining capacity of people, because we're not going to be King Canute rolling back the waves."

People Mentioned:
Guy Standing
Organisations Mentioned:
University of London
Reference No:

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