The Features of Temporary Workers in the Public Sector in the UK
Contrary to its image as a relatively ‘safer’ employer, the British public sector has undergone a tremendous shift in its employment policies. Aimed to control personnel expenditure and to facilitate organizational flexibility, the restructuring of the public sector in the UK has indeed managed to reduce costs and jobs, but took a significant toll on current and future employees (Morgan, Alington, & Heery, 2000). This short literature review focuses on three major consequences of these changes, namely the negative experience of temporary work, its link to questions of gender and the temporary workers’ job security and job satisfaction.
The Negative Experience of Temporary Workers
Very briefly speaking, temporary work arrangements include an array of employment contracts, which do not guarantee life-long employment relations between the parties. The contract can (but not always) include a definite termination date and may be limited to the completion of a task, a project or to the return of an absent worker. Therefore, temporary workers are typically those whose skills and/or tasks are not essential for employers’ core activities, that is, temporary workers are typically found in the organization’s ‘peripheries’ (Kalleberg, 2001).
As the proportion of temporary workers in the British public sector continues to grow (Conley, 2002), such jobs challenge workers in more than a few ways. The loss of the so-called psychological contract (i.e. reciprocal employment relationships and a sense of interdependence) brings about fear from the unknown, reluctance to engage in professions that are perceived as less stable (such as social work) and a sense of powerlessness (ibid.). Furthermore, temporary workers are typically more dependent on social services, as they are less likely to receive fringe benefits such as employer-sponsored health insurance (Ditsler, Fisher, & Gordon, 2005).
The Link between Gender and Temporary Work
A growing body of literature leaves very little room for doubt regarding “the gendered nature of temporary work” (Conley, 2008, p. 735). Women do not occupy a majority of the low-paid temporary jobs in the public sector, but have also fewer opportunities for career progression (Conley, 2007).
In addition, since many temporary jobs are also done part-time and the higher propensity for part-time work among women (especially working mothers), employers may have a tendency to ‘frame’ all part-time jobs as temporary, a phenomenon that may bring about even lower opportunities for career progress (Conley, 2008). British women, who are more likely to engage in temporary work and for lower pay than their European peers (Gustafsson, Kenjoh, & Wetzels, 2001), live disrupted lives with a clear sense of hopelessness in the face of such a system.
Job Security and Job Satisfaction
Temporary workers’ inherent lack of job security in the public sector has two major outcomes. First and foremost, their inability to plan ahead (because of the high tenure in such organizations) makes most of those jobs unattractive for both potential and current workers. Second, the temporary nature of the jobs usually means that the workers have very little opportunities for development, that is, their careers tend to be stagnant (Conley, 2007).
The result of all these is what Mogran et al. define as the “collapse of traditional sources of motivation and commitment” (2000, p. 103). Although their productivity may not fall from permanent employees (Kalleberg, 2001), temporary workers’ lack of opportunities for development may significantly decrease job satisfaction of both the workers and the users of public services, especially in public services such as schools and healthcare providers of the NHS (Conley, 2002; Morgan et al., 2000).
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