Employers' Choices and Employment Precariousness: A Subjective Experience of Being a Temporary Agency Worker in Italy and the UK

Friday, June 24, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
420 Barrows (Barrows Hall)
Alessio Bertolini, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Employers in the past few decades have increasingly used atypical employment contracts to increase flexibility and improve efficiency in their production process. Temporary agency work (TAW) can be considered a prime example of this practice, as it is one of the most commonly used atypical employment contracts in all Western countries and beyond. On the one hand, numerous studies on employment and labour markets have investigated the use of this type of employment contract by firms and public administration and have identified the main reasons behind the employers’ choice of employing workers through temporary agencies. On the other hand, sociological and social policy literature has investigated the emergence of the phenomenon of employment precariousness in relation to the spread of atypical employment in post-industrial economies. However, the literature has hitherto failed to directly link the type of use of TAW by employers with workers’ employment precariousness. In this paper I investigate the connection between different employers’ reasons for choosing TAW and workers’ subjective experience and explore how different reasons behind employers’ choice affect the workers’ subjective sense of precariousness from a comparative perspective. I include in my analysis two countries, Italy and the UK, with extremely different employment regulations systems, which provide two distinct institutional frameworks in which employers’ choices are made. The issue is investigated through semi-structured interviews with TA workers in the two countries and to several relevant stakeholders. The paper argues that the different use of TAW by employers has a profound effect on TA workers’ subjective experience of employment precariousness. In turn, a country’s institutional setting provides important opportunities and constraints in employers’ choices of using TAW. This paper sheds also some new light on the debate whether atypical employment can be regarded as a trap or as a stepping stone into the labour market, by providing an analysis of the subjective experience of atypical workers and how this relates to employers’ labour demand. These findings open new opportunities for public institutions to reduce employment precariousness by providing different incentives and constraints on employers’ hiring choices.