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Last Update: 2006-11-22   Source: Research Headlines
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How casual should jobs be?

An EU-funded project recently took a look at the European labour market to assess the sociological effects of ‘contingent employment'. For the sake of their study, researchers focused primarily on limited duration contracts (LDCs) and employment obtained through temporary work agencies (TWAs). They hoped to gain a better understanding of the forces behind the use of such employment schemes and the consequences for workers, employers and trade unions. They were able to determine that, despite their reputation, TWAs can serve as reliable source of income for some Europeans.

Study indicates temporary work agencies could play larger role in labour policy.  © Tom Ventura
Study indicates temporary work agencies could play larger role in labour policy.
© Tom Ventura
For their purposes, researchers defined ‘contingent employment' as “all types of employment relationships that may be terminated with minimal costs from the point of view of the employer.” They conducted a comparative survey of four European countries (Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain), as well as the US. The US was chosen to provide contrast to Europe's heterogeneous labour markets. They also compared contingent employment in Europe across sectors. Here they studied the healthcare, food manufacturing, financial services and information and communication technology (ICT).

One of the major findings of their study was that TWAs can indeed provide workers with both relative security and flexibility. TWAs can offer security when a prospective employee manages to secure a contract with the actual agency itself. Once such a position is obtained, then the employee enjoys a certain degree of flexibility through assignments at the firms associated with the TWA.

The report suggests that European governments could take a more active role in recognising the positive effect potentially played by TWAs in labour market policy goals. Government could do more in striking a balance between private TWAs and public employment services, according to the researchers. They suggest a “first step would be to consider revisions of the governance structure of temporary agency work.”

The NUEWO project identified three “principal regulatory issues concerning TWAs”: allowing temporary work agencies to pursue profitable business activities, ensuring the integrity of the collective bargaining process at the user firm, and ensuring some degree of job security for agency workers.

The group indicated in their report some legislative actions that might be taken to address the issues. They include the equal treatment for the temporary agency sector, equal treatment as regards pay and working conditions for agency workers at the user firm, and equal treatment for agency workers in terms of employment status in labour law.

Interestingly, the report notes that trade unions could do more to bring temporary workers under their protection. They write that unions have been reluctant to organise at agencies and hesitant to act in favour of employment protection when it comes to temporary employees.

Despite the potential of TWAs to contribute towards policy goals, the NUEWO team concludes that more research is required to properly assess the nature of temporary employment. They recommend the creation of a “forum for the discussion of comparative research methodology in European research efforts.”


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NUEWO final report on Europa: