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World – Legislation failing to keep pace with structural changes in the labour market

24 September 2013

The labour market is changing and we are facing an ongoing jobs crisis. Policy makers are focusing on trying to solve the economic and employment crisis, which is important, but we need to start looking at the fundamental structural changes in the job market.

This is the view of Denis Pennel, Managing Director of Ciett (the international confederation of private employment services), who has released a new book entitled ‘The New Reality of Work’. In an interview with Staffing Industry Analysts, he outlined how the workplace has changed and what we will need to do keep up with it.

The job market is not what it used to be. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s people were predominately employed on full-time permanent contracts. Technological advances and a rise of individualism have created a shift in job market trends over the past two decades, resulting in a labour market that is out-of-sync with our growing individualism.

Individualism is a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. Denis has traced the rise of individualism as far back as the Italian Renaissance and the French Revolution. The labour market, however, has been the last hold-out against this social theory.

“People increasingly want to be recognised at work and want their personalities to be reflected at work. Smart devices mean that we can now work at any time, at any moment. We are always reachable. We don’t require fixed locations, technology allows you to work from anywhere with a wifi connection,” explained Denis.        

According to Denis, the workplace is no longer polarised between permanent/temporary/fixed term contract employment. New forms of work are developing outside the employer-employee relationship paradigm; such as self-employed, freelance, crowdsourcing, and free agent. And it is these newer forms of work that are the focus on Denis’ book.

Regulation, however, has not kept pace with these new forms of employment. The social protections built into the regulations are primarily aimed at full-time, permanent employees.

“We need to update the regulation when it comes to labour laws and the ways that labour markets are being organised. Policy makers have to review the way the labour market it being regulated and modernise it,” said Denis.

“There has been too much focus on the jobs crisis. We need to look behind the crisis to see the structural changes that have taken place in the labour market,” he added. 

Denis’ predicts in his book that the increasingly complex labour market will give rise to market intermediaries between the employer and the worker. A concept that Denis believes will take the form of guilds. Established in the Middle Ages, guilds were associations somewhat akin to trade unions that provided tradesmen with industry protection and offered apprenticeships. 

Denis predicts that the modernised guilds will have to source candidates, train them, and find them work. The guilds will have to take on the de facto role of negotiator for such issues as wages and employment conditions, existing as a hybrid between an employer organisation and trade union.

While these newer forms of employment grow in popularity, Denis remains quite optimistic about the future of temporary staffing. While the staffing industry is well established in Europe and North America, there remains many parts of the world where the industry can grow further.

Denis anticipates that some markets will open in the next couple of months and expects that proper regulation will be adopted on temporary work in Russia by the end of the year. Ciett has been providing a lot of support in India, and the fears of a total ban on labour broking in South Africa have not been realised.

“There is still huge room for the industry to grow. In some regions of the world temporary staffing is in the early stages. There are many parts of the world where this industry can grow further,” Denis concluded.     

At present, Denis’ book The New Reality of Work (Travailler pour soi) is only available in French. Efforts are underway to translate the book into English and it will be available in the coming months.  

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