A new employment contract

Gunnar Aronsson
2001 Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health  
The following article refers to this text: 2008;34(2):81-164 Editorial A new employment contract During the last decade, in most mature economic capitalist countries, worklife has been characterized by new corporate constellations, unemployment and the threat of unemployment, downsizing, and new patterns of employment. Globally, there has been continuous growth of nonstandard work contracts (ie, contracts which deviate from the standard contract form, which is full-time, permanent and
more » ... anent and relatively secure). These characteristics have represented the "standard norm" in contrast to nonstandard employment, which is conventionally perceived as part-time or temporary. Self-employed persons are also regarded as outside the norm. A general trait is weak roots in the labor market for more and more workers. These changes have had, and will have, considerable consequences for the agenda of worklife research. The background for the changes in employment contracts can be described as a struggle between organizations and companies to avoid risks. In this process a strong center induces uncertainty in peripheral structures so as to create stability and security at the core of its production structure. In this manner a company increases its capacity to handle unpredictability and rapid market fluctuations. The bearers of uncertainty are small subcontracting companies and their employees, the self-employed, and people on time-restricted employment contracts. At the core of these structures are, at least so far, principally employees with relatively high job security and opportunities for personal and occupational development and also job content and pay. In many respects the ideal of healthy work, in which demands and control are balanced in combination with development opportunities and learning (1), is a reality for this core group and therefore a major plus from the perspective of health. Their relatively strong position depends on the fact that the group possesses skills that are both in demand and expensive to substitute. This core group is also often protected against market fluctuations by strong trade unions. Despite their position, core workers also experience more insecurity in periods of fast structural changes. The concepts of life-long learning and employability have their origin in these structural changes. The core is encircled by workers with time-restricted contracts (also called contingent or temporary work) whose task is to assure organizational flexibility in relation to the troughs and peaks of production. The proportion varies considerably between countries with relatively similar socioeconomic structures. Currently, time-restricted contracts comprise around 15% of the labor force in Sweden. This is a rather strong increase from the 10% in the beginning of the 1990s. The highest proportion in Europe is to be found in Spain and Portugal, the lowest in Austria, Luxembourg, and Denmark. There are considerable differences in work conditions in different types of temporary jobs. In Sweden the major numerical increases have occurred among persons employed to meet emergency requirements (on call) and project workers. These two categories of employment are linked to understaffing and modern goaloriented forms of work, respectively. Women make-up a large majority of the former category, and men dominate the latter. A third circle or segment consists of the self-employed. The shift from goods to service production is a driving force in the growth of this group. Service production suits self-employment better than goods production, and many services can be efficiently produced in companies of this kind. The emerging picture is that of workers with greater mobility in a variety of respects. Such mobility is partly personally chosen and partly enforced. Within its various dimensions, there is movement between
doi:10.5271/sjweh.627 fatcat:xv6jtklgijafnajg65q37ydcnm