‘PRECARITY AND PRECARIOUSNESS – A STUDY INTO THE IMPACT OF LOW-PAY, LOW-SKILL EMPLOYMENT STRUCTURES ON THE EXPERIENCES OF WORKERS IN THE SOUTH WEST OF BRITAIN
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This is a study into the impact of precarious work, defined as low-skill and low-pay jobs, on workers in the South West of Britain. In it, I investigate the experiences of three broad groups of precarious workers: migrants, care assistants (adult and nursery) and employees working for ‘Cleanwell’, an international provider of cleaning and catering services.
My approach identifies and occupies the central ground between two opposing perspectives. Along with Guy Standing (2014; 2011), I acknowledge the existence of employment structures which can be objectively described as lacking the security of meaningful pay, tenure, access to training and progression. However, I reject the reductive structural determinism, from structures of work towards working experiences, which he implies. With Kevin Doogan (2015; 2013), I recognise the opposing, ‘rising security’ argument which cautions against homogenous classifications of precarious workers. Nevertheless, I view it as incomplete, challenging only the extent of precarity conditions but not the inherently negative experiences associated with them.
In my investigation, I distinguish between ‘precarity’, as the terms and conditions of low-pay and low-skill work and ‘precariousness’, conceptualised as the corresponding worker experiences. Grounding my study in a phenomenological paradigm of enquiry and adopting a ‘meaning condensation’ method of analysis (Kvale, 1996), I seek to understand whether workers can re-construct the negative impact of precarious contexts. As a result, I present precariousness as essentially relational and not absolute. Furthermore, the re-construction of the precarious experience draws on the support of social groups and can lead to fulfilling professional identities. Lastly, precariousness can be a pedagogic experience, both positive and developmental, through which workers can follow the example set by parents and grandparents, as well as serving as role-models themselves.
In the study, I challenge assumptions that precarious work has a predominantly negative impact on workers, yet caution against arguments for worker collectivisation and resistance. I argue that precariousness is a phenomenon neither fully determined by low-skill, low-pay contexts, nor simply a psychological state manifested in isolation from precarious work. Rather, it is the phenomenological ‘intending’ (Sokolowski, 2000) of precarious structures, that is, the conscious engagement of precarious workers with low-pay and low-skill work through a range of attitudes, beliefs, views and opinions. Defining it in such a way is a departure from conventional approaches and through it, I show that precariousness offers a wider range of, both positive and negative experiences. It is a means through which even the employment context of precarious work can be re-constructed by individual workers who do not have allegiance to a precariat class, whether actual, or ‘in-the-making’ (Standing, 2011).