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Title: The experience of labour market disadvantage : a comparison of temporary agency workers in Italy and the UK
Author: Bertolini, Alessio
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 2655
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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In the past decades, European labour markets have undergone profound changes, witnessing a process of liberalisation and flexibilisation, in part through the spread of various forms of atypical employment. These new forms of employment have been argued to be of generally lower quality than standard employment, presenting several disadvantages across a range of employment-related dimensions. Nevertheless, the disadvantages experienced by atypical workers are argued to differ depending on nationally specific institutional settings, as employment regulations, welfare institutions and collective representation are commonly claimed to play a significant role in the shaping of disadvantage. Within the field of comparative political economy, a literature has emerged dealing with issues of dualisation and insider-outsider divides associated with these new forms of employment, mainly focusing on institutional divides in employment and welfare protection and political representation between standard and atypical workers and their consequences in terms of social inequalities. Authors within this literature have argued divides to be different across groups of countries within Europe. Specifically, an important distinction has been claimed to exist between Liberal countries, where divides are argued to be limited, and Southern European countries, where they are said to be among the highest. But this literature has mostly considered disadvantages from an institutional perspective, without empirically investigating whether institutional divides actually translate into individual disadvantages. At the same time, within sociology, authors have investigated individual disadvantages experienced by atypical workers under the broad concept of precariousness. Nevertheless, these scholars have not provided a systematic analysis of the relation between different institutional frameworks and individual disadvantages. This thesis aims at partly bridging these two literatures, by providing an analysis of how different institutional settings impact on disadvantages as experienced at the individual level. To do this, this thesis explores the disadvantages experienced by a specific category of atypical workers, namely temporary agency workers. It focuses on two countries which have been argued to present very different institutional divides across a broad range of employment-related dimensions. The UK is seen as the main example of Liberal country in the European context, providing limited employment protection to all workers, a fragmented system of industrial relations and a social protection system mainly based on means-testing and mostly aimed at poverty prevention. In contrast, Italy has been considered one of the European countries with the most highly segmented labour market, with high employment protection for core workers but very little for workers at the margin. At the same time, both its industrial relations system and it social protection system are said to strongly discriminate against people in atypical forms of employment. These claims are explored through semi-structured interviews with temporary agency workers in the service sector, trade unionists and other relevant stakeholders involved in atypical employment. The study demonstrates that temporary agency workers in the two countries experience partly different disadvantages. Although differences in the institutional settings can be said to contribute to explaining these differences, the analysis reveals a more complex picture. I show that institutional divides do not necessarily translate into individual disadvantages, as they interact among each other and with other factors in moulding individual experiences in a variety of ways. At the same time, individual disadvantages are present even when no institutional divide exists. Thus, the study argues that considering disadvantages only in terms of institutional divides oversimplifies a more complex and varied reality, and calls for more attention to be paid to how institutional divides are translated into individual disadvantages.
Supervisor: Clegg, Daniel ; Clasen, Jochen Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: European labour markets ; comparative political economy ; atypical workers ; temporary agency workers ; employment protection ; means-testing