Work And Employment

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Last updated: April 21, 2019

A range of commentators now accept that there have been considerable changes in the nature of work in contemporary society. Ransome (1999: 50) notes that all economic relationships are circumscribed by the wider, social political and cultural context within which they take place.

In order to understand properly the nature of economic relationships it is also necessary to understand the complex ways in which these various contexts interact with one another. Current changes in work can be attributed to a combination of factors:- (Ransome 1999: 6)1. Widespread restructuring and re-organization of industry2. The development of powerful technologies3. The displacements of established patterns of work by new occupations and new ways of working4. Important changes in the composition and distribution of the workforce5. New pressures from the increasingly global character of economic planning and practice.To examine changes in the nature of work we need to understand the political and economic context and how this influences changes in the nature of work.

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a) Political ContextThe political context is multi-layered, comprising of National, European and International governments.b) Economic ContextThe economic context considers three important themes-1) The rise in significance of the global economy2) Increased competition3) Changes in the industrial composition of the UK economy.* GlobalisationOne of the most significant developments in recent years has been the increased globalised nature of economic relations.

Although the term globalisation remains contested, it is fair to reflect that there has been a notable increase in the cross-national nature of goods and services as national economies are increasingly integrated into global trading relations. Brown (1997) refers to globalization as ‘the removal of technical and political barriers between national economies so that the world approaches being one unified market and national and regional economies and industries are subject to unrestrained international competition’. There are three identifiable processes associated with this. Firstly, this can be seen by the liberalization of trade. Secondly, this is reflected by the growing number of countries involved in industrialisation:- Korea, Thailand, China, and India. Finally, this is evident in the pervasiveness of the multi-national corporations. A notable implication of the increased dominance of multi-nationals has served to increase competition as local and national markets are exposed to wider competition.

* Increased competitionMore intensified competition has implications for employer strategies and therefore, on labour. Employers have make choices to remain competitive; Noon and Blyton (2002: 30) describe the two extreme positions:a) At one end a firm can achieve competition through improved performance and therefore, may lead the organisation to create a highly trained and skilled workforce to increase outputs.b) At the other end, a firm may achieve competition by a labour strategy based on lower costs, this entails lowering labour costs such as reduced expenditure on training.It is argued that the UK has generally pursued a labour strategy based on low costs with little investment in training and skill development.

These choices are based on political and economic decisions.* Industrial composition of the UK economyThe overall structure of employment is influenced by patterns of change in particular industries and broader sectors. Brown identifies that the most fundamental change has been the shift in numbers employed in main industrial sectors, specifically the decline in manufacturing and rise in service sector employment. Almost 40% of the working population were employed in the manufacturing sector in 1970, this figure had fallen to 17.

5% in 2000 (Labour Market Trends 2000). From 1971-2002 it is noted that there has been a near 50% decrease in employees working in manufacturing, whereas, there has been a 64% increase in those working in services. So, that nearly four and half times as many people are employed in services compared with manufacturing.

Changes in the economic and political context have marked implications for the way in which work is organised. Significantly, the increased service sector has led to changes in relation to labour flexibility and women’s participation in work.* FlexibilityIt has been widely accepted that between the period of the 1970s and 1990s there have been fundamental changes to the organisation of employment in society. Hutton (1995) has described Britain as the 30:40:40 society. 40% are full-time employees or secure self-employed, 30% are insecurely self-employed and involuntary part-time or casual workers and the 30% are unemployed or working for poverty wages. Millward et al’s (2000: 44) research identifies that part-time work is the most established and widely used form of non-standard employment. Service sector employment has spawned a major increase in flexible working practices, such that a great extent of the growth in employment has been in the shape of non-standard labour.

a) Part-time working – Approximately 6 million people work part-time in Britain and the incidence of part-time working is increasing. Consecutive WERS studies reveal that although part-time staff constituted a quarter of the workforce in 33% of workplaces during the 1980s, this figure increased to 44% of workplaces by 1998. Millward et al (2000) noted that this increase was mainly due to a rise in the proportion of workplaces with very high numbers of part-timers (over 50%).

They noted that the increase in part-time working was most evident in the private service sector this was particularly evident among workplaces engaged in distribution, hotels, catering and repairs. Research has identified that this work often results in inferior pay, promotion and benefits for women that work part-time compared with their full-time counterparts.* Female ParticipationWomen’s economic activity rates have increase considerably in the past 30 years. Women now constitute nearly 50% of all those in employment. However, the rises in female employment can mainly be attributed to women’s involvement in part-time work.

Whereas there has only been a 3% increase in women working full-time between 1971 and 1995 the number of women working part-time has increased by 75%, so that in 1994 nearly four out of every five part-time positions were occupied by women. The level of participation in part-time work has also served to continue gender segregation in employment.These transitions in Britain’s industrial landscape have marked implications for the nature of work. These transitions have been described in a number of ways:-* From Fordism to post-Fordism this transition is reflective of service centred economies based on a more heterogeneous workforce.* More flexible forms of production and the lean organisational form.* Technical dynamism epitomised by announcements of the end of the machine age and the emergence of an information age (Warhurst and Thompson 1998: 1)* The feminisation of workTo focus upon changes in the nature of work the course shall discuss three inter-related features:-a) The changing content of workb) The changing management of workc) Employee responses to the changing nature of worka) The changing content of workThe increased preponderance of flexible working, rises in the service sector and the increased use of new technology have implications for the skill content of work in the contemporary workplace. For instance Nolan (2004: 381) identifies that the fastest growing areas of employment expansion are in caring and domestic services. Additionally, it is contended that the rise of the service sector requires workers with different skills, with specific reference to social skills and the increased need for emotional labour.

* New technology and skillsThe application of new technology in the information age also has implications for skills. Debates centre on the emergence of the ‘knowledge economy’ and the corresponding requirement of ‘knowledge workers’.* Service sector – New Skills?Increased employment in the service sector has prompted employers to attempt to develop more customer responsive and market led approaches which have led to organisation paying more attention to workers’ qualities, personalities and characteristics than ever before. At the centre of this debate has been the increased development of management practices associated with Total Quality Management (TQM) and Human Resource Management (HRM) (Blyton and Turnbull, 1992; Legge, 1995; Guest, 1990; Storey, 1989). It is suggested that the increased attention to workers’ personalities has led to the development of emotional labour in the contemporary workplace.b) The changing management of work?The changing organisation and content of work has forced management to focus upon new ways to manage the workforce which consists of control and consent. Warhurst and Thompson (1998:6) reflect on how commentators have conceived of these developments in terms of a paradigm shift. Thus debates centre on the extent to which these practices are considered ‘new’ – such that commentators tend to focus upon the use of electronic surveillance and cultural techniques of control.

The course will assess if these developments constitute new and more pervasive forms of controls and whether they signify a break from past practices.c) Employee responses to the changing nature of workAnother feature of debates on the contemporary workplace centre on how employees respond to the changing nature of work. Specifically the emphasis on ‘new management practices’ have tended to focus on how management have been able to initiate widespread changes in the workplace. However, the course will focus o whether management have been able to achieve their aims un-hindered by employee actions. Therefore, we will assess the extent to which employees develop strategies to survive as well as to resist in the new workplace.Political and economic considerations are crucial for understanding the context of work; these include the rise of globalisation and the liberalisation of capital, deregulation of employment and the growth in the service sector.

These developments have impacted upon the organisation and nature of work in contemporary Britain; these involve the growth in a more flexible labour market with the increased participation of women. Further, as organisations have searched for ever greater ways to develop competitive advantage this has implications for the content and management of work. The nature of skill development and the kinds of work required in the service sector have been the source of much debate, as have management attempts to control the contemporary workplace. However, many commentators and journalists have portrayed a very one-sided view of the changing shape of work in which all developments are represented as a rupture with past practices. This course shall evaluate some of these competing views and as Thompson and Warhurst (1998: 19) highlight also recognise that continuity is as pervasive as change.

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