Putting together some material recently for a conference presentation on temporary and contract workers made me ask whether it is time to rethink some of the assumptions made about temporary jobs, the people who take these jobs, and the employers that provide them.
Temporary work has often been bracketed – alongside self-employment and part-time work – as a form of ‘atypical work’, that is, anything that doesn’t fit the mould of a full-time job with an open-ended contract and employee status. Like Wham! and shoulder pads, the concept is a product of the 1980s although these forms of work have a far longer lineage. Private employment agencies have been around for the best part of a century and were a sufficiently established institution to deserve a Carry On film of their own (Carry on Regardless, 1961).
Underpinning many discussions of ‘atypical work’ have been an assumption that it is second class work, lacking many of the legal or other protections and privileges associated with ‘typical’ work and offered by employers seeking to take advantage of a weak economy to short change workers. Perceptions may have mellowed somewhat as part-time work, fixed term employment and temporary agency employment are now all subject to regulation that prohibits clear cases of discrimination or exploitation (such as offering different rates of pay). Concepts such as the ‘casualisation’ or ‘precariousness’ of work have tended to replace ‘atypical work’ in discussions of the modern labour market and are applied to people in ‘typical’ as well as ‘atypical’ work.
Are you employed on a temporary contract? Do you think that a temporary job is a bad job? Share your insights in the comments section below.
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