Social and economic changes in Europe have given rise to new forms of employment, many very different from traditional ‘work’. What are these new trends, and how do they affect working conditions and the labour market? Irene Mandl of Eurofound examines the findings of a special report.
The huge increase in the use of zero-hours contracts for workers in the UK and some other parts of Europe has rightly attracted a lot of attention – and criticism. There are said to be almost 250,000 in the UK in this type of employment alone. But there are plenty of other new forms of working that have emerged in the last 15 years. Some appear to offer some flexibility and security; others some precarity.
We’ve found that some of these new forms of working have the potential to transform traditional relationships between employers and employees. Also, work no longer is done at a permanent place (office or factory). It can involve an intermittent visit to the internet café to perform some task for another person over a few hours or sitting at one’s laptop or tablet at home running a small business.
Here are the new – and widely differing – forms Eurofound has identified:
- Employee sharing, where an individual worker is jointly hired by employers in different companies, resulting in permanent full-time employment;
- Job sharing, where an employer hires a group of workers to jointly fill a specific job, combining several part-time jobs into the equivalent of a full-time position;
- Interim management, where experts are hired temporarily to conduct a specific project or solve a specific problem, integrating external management capacities within the organisation;
- Casual work, where an employer is not obliged to provide regular work to the employee, but has the flexibility of calling them in on demand;
- ICT-based mobile work, where workers do not exclusively work at the premises of the employer or client, but from any place at any time, supported by new technologies;
- Voucher-based work, where the employer-employee relationship is not based on an employment or civil law contract, but on a voucher that the employer buys from an authorised organisation and hands over to the worker; this covers remuneration and social security contributions;
- Portfolio work, where self-employed individuals work for a large number of clients and carry out small jobs for each of them;
- Crowd employment, where a virtual platform matches employers and workers, often linked to larger tasks broken down into small jobs with a division of labour among a ‘virtual cloud’ of workers;
- Collaborative employment, where freelancers, self-employed people or micro enterprises cooperate to overcome the limitations of their small size and professional isolation.
These obviously vary enormously. But one can say that employee sharing, job sharing and interim management in particular seem to result in beneficial working conditions, as workers’ enhanced flexibility is combined with a decent level of security. But it’s not always a one-way street. ICT-based mobile work, for instance, offers higher flexibility, autonomy and empowerment, while also bringing about risks related to higher work intensity, increased stress levels, extra working hours, that blur boundaries between work and private life and even the outsourcing of traditional employer responsibilities onto the workers themselves.
For freelancers and the self-employed, portfolio work, crowd employment and collaborative employment can bring a richer mix of tasks through diversification. Voucher-based work entails some job insecurity, social and professional isolation as well as limited access to personnel services such as the offer of further training , but it does offer an improvement as regards social protection and might result in higher remuneration (if, for example, linked to a minimum wage).
Casual work is, clearly, characterised by low levels of job and income security, social protection and access to HR measures such as training. Its high flexibility might be appreciated by some workers, but tends to be excessive for most, in the sense that more continuity would be appreciated.
Labour Market Effects
When it comes to labour market effects, employee sharing, job sharing and interim management seem to be the most beneficial, while casual work can be considered as the most disadvantageous for the affected workers. All these new employment forms could bring positive effects as regards the labour market integration of specific groups of workers,; the job creation potential is, however, rather limited.
Several of the emerging employment forms outlined here contribute to labour market innovation and making the labour market more attractive as they offer jobs which suit the needs of specific groups of workers, for example as regards the time and place of work or by making their employment less precarious. However, casual work in particular could increase labour market segmentation as it might result in a widespread acceptance of such fragmented jobs, that come with poor earnings and limited social protection.
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The sheer variety of the new forms of employment as well as the costs and benefits attached to them present policy-makers with an array of choices. For those with positive effects on working conditions and the labour market (employee sharing, interim management or job sharing, for example) marketing and information campaigns to spread the message about them would be a good idea.
For casual work, ICT-based mobile work or crowd employment ‘safety nets’ for the workers are needed and should be arranged by the authorities, public and private. This could come through legislation, via collective bargaining agreements or the establishment of specific monitoring instruments like more specific follow-ups by labour inspectorates. A balance between the protection of workers and the practical applicability of the specific type of working for employers must be found here.
Irene Mandl is from Austria where she worked in policy-oriented socio-economic research in the field of employment/labour markets as well as entrepreneurship and industry analysis before joining Eurofound as research manager.