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New Labour Force

What has become crystal clear in the last four decades all over the world, is that the classical, archetypal model of employment of the past in terms of long-term open-ended labour contracts has disappeared. It is replaced by new employment created through the deviations from it in terms of not only the triangular relationship in which there is an intermediary—contractor or temp agency—between the worker and the user firm but also in terms of (a) employment relationship with specific expiry date and/or the interrupted job performance; (b) flexible duration of work; (c) work performed outside the firm; and (d) labour on call (Bose, 2012). Multiple job holders are increasing and they offer labour on call, probably through temp agencies, and this provides a valuable resource for companies which do not wish to expand their core permanent employees and yet wish to have particular skills on call (Clutterbuck, 1985).

All the workers employed in these ways are clubbed under the category “the new labour force” in that they are out of the traditional labour law that applied to the classical job-for-life or open-ended employment contracts, also known as standard employment as a typical contract of labour law (Veneziani, 1997). This increases the precariousness of worker’s position as no minimum social security benefits are guaranteed and union rights are lost. Whether these workers are predominantly women is a researchable concern. If the unions are destroyed within the corporate sector itself, and the majority of labour force becomes like the “new labour force” as mentioned above, then labour will get excluded from the social democratic sector of capitalism. Ultimately, the labour law debate all over the world is about whether there should be social democratic sector of capitalism at all even as all the trends are pointing towards a regression to the 19th century free-for-all, laissez-faire conditions with even the so-called social democratic parties and mainstream leftist parties all over the world failing the workers. De jure or de facto, the whole world has drifted towards systematically dismantling the labour laws associated with social democratic capitalism that was there up until the onset of neoliberalistic globalization since the late 1980s. In the process, most workers have begun to live or die with garbage labour contracts and the associated substandard employment conditions (Bose, 2012; Banaji, 2000; Moody, 1997).

Today, the social democratic parties are increasingly uncommitted even to the defence of reforms workers achieved in the 1930s and post-World War Two period. They accept the argument that increasing corporate productivity, even at the cost of falling incomes and lost social benefits, is necessary for nations to compete globally! Given this trend, even the late William (“Wimpy”) Winpisinger, President of the US International Association of Machinists who professed socialism akin to humanizing capitalism in the postwar period, would be turning over in his grave.

In this milieu, it is interesting to note progressive labour legislation in some European countries such as Germany, and especially Scandinavian countries such as Sweden in terms of attaching social security benefits to part-time work and in terms of anti-subcontracting/outsourcing legislation in order to avoid sweatshop outsourcing (Veneziani, 1997). Whether this progressive legislation is still intact in these countries, we do not know. Also, we do not know if such legislations are in place anywhere in the developing world. Part-time work is said to be not in itself an evil, and is encouraged and authorized in countries such as Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Norway, Holland, Portugal, Sweden and Greece. It is found to be mutually advantageous for both employers and workers (women and young people)— employers like it because it is suitable for their flexible labour requirements and workers like it because it suits their inability to accept full-employment even as the law protects them in part-time work with guaranteed social benefits.

No wonder part-time work has rapidly taken off in a variety of forms in these countries, and in Japan too—horizontal part-time in terms of a reduction in normal working hours, vertical part-time in terms of full-time work on alternate days, job-sharing, job alternation, and early retirement with the part-time job of an unemployed worker! This is dizzy stuff indeed for a labour researcher like me in the developing country context of all out informal labour relations sans any social security.

In fact, the conventional labour movement is dumbfounded in relation to unfolding changes on these lines, wherein “the will of the parties to the agreement rules supreme and contractual freedom is an act of faith in the free market economy”. Unions are irrelevant as the workers do not see the contract of employment as one of subordination and therefore do not want a union to represent their interests, and instead prefer direct bilateral relations with employers.

More definitive research throwing light on the nature and character of part-time wage-slavery fast replacing full-time wage-slavery, needs to be done or unearthed all across the world, for comparative evaluation, with a view to promoting labour-welfarist economic development or not, and also with a view to finding out if there is indeed a growing wilful demand from workers for such work attached to social security benefits.

Research on the emergence of new labour force can throw light on two agendas, one negative and the other positive.

The negative agenda is that with government as also judicial help mostly skewed in favour of the militant employers in neoliberal times, some scholars have argued out the case for bilateral battling of labour relations through the complete withdrawal of the government from tripartism. However, in the event of government withdrawal, the legal foundations of capitalism cannot ensure fairness to labour in disputes settlement for the fundamental reason put forward thus: “…people who own no property…not only have severely restricted rights but ought to have severely restricted rights…the common man could not be expected to be a free and responsible citizen. And what did responsibility mean? Then as now responsibility was first and foremost respect for property. A recurring fear of political scientists is that the rabble of the propertyless will be roused to seize or destroy the property of the rich and well born. As Adam Smith was among the first to observe, it is indeed a wonder that such arousal has not generally occurred. The rights that constituted physical property…have been extended to the new form of property, which is a share in a corporation. In effect, they have been extended to the corporation itself. Hence the corporation has the right to recruit people to work with its property and also the right to discharge the recruits at its convenience. The rights of property are sacrosanct. Employment is generally considered to be property of the employer rather than the employee. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are subsidiary to the rights of property…Property, which is not and never has been alive, is more important in the eyes of the law than living men and women.” (Brockway, 2001). Thus, in the negative agenda, the requirement of responsibility to protect as a public moral code is done away with.

By contrast, the positive agenda is to develop the contract of employment, despite the emergence of new labour force, into a guarantee of fundamental rights (Veneziani, Undated). Whether the European Union’s “flexicurity” strategy—that aims simultaneously to enhance the flexibility of labour markets, work organisations, and labour relations on the one hand, while maintaining employment and income security on the other—takes care of this positive agenda, in developing countries as well, is a moot question to be probed (Boyer, 2006; Flaschel and Greiner, 2012) .

Annavajhula J.C. Bose, PhDDepartment of Economics, SRCC


1. Annavajhula J.C. Bose. 2012. Libertarian Labour Laws: A Thumbnail Discussion. Indian Streams Research Journal. 2 (9). October. 2. Bruno Veneziani. 1997. The New Labour Force, in C. S. Venkata Ratnam. 1997. Third National Workshop on Emerging Demands of Trade Unions.3. Bruno Veneziani. Undated. The Employment Relationship. David Clutterbuck. 1985. “The Brave New World of Work”, in D. Clutterbuck. ed. 1985. New Patterns of Work, Gower. 5. George P. Brockway. 2001. The End of Economic Man. W.W. Norton & Company. New York.6. Jairus Banaji. 2000. India: Workers’ Rights in a New Economic Order. Working Paper No. 55. Queen Elizabeth House. University of Oxford. November.7. Kim Moody. 1997. Workers in a Lean World, Verso, London and New York.8. Peter Flaschel and Alfred Greiner. 2012. Flexicurity Capitalism: Foundations, Problems and Perspectives. Oxford University Press. April.9. Robert Boyer. 2006. Employment and Decent Work in the Era of ‘Flexicurity’. DESA Working Paper No. 32. ST/ESA/2006/DWP/32. September. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.getRandomImage(‘New-Labour-Force’)
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