Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Lund Papers in Economic History,
Lund University, Department of Economic History

No 137: Dimensions of Precarity: A Contradictory Case of Non-Standard Employment

Tobias Karlsson ()
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Tobias Karlsson: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: This paper discusses the concept of ‘precarious employment’ in relation to the Swedish shipbuilding industry in the 1960s and 1970s. In this setting, characterized by shortage of labour, a dual labour market structure emerged, where some workers were directly employed by the shipyards and others indirectly employed through intermediaries. The case differs from classical accounts of dual labour markets and it is not obvious to use the term precarious employment to describe the situation of the external workers. On the one hand, the external workers had insecure jobs and were involved in triangular employment relationships, where the true identity and responsibility of the employer was unclear. They were also excluded from the social security systems. On the other hand, the external workers appear to have had higher incomes, opportunities to work long hours, less responsibility for unrewarding maintenance tasks and perhaps even the advantage of working under more flexible supervision. The case demonstrates the diversity that can be found in historical work arrangements and suggests that the term precarious employment should be applied with some caution, both past and present.

Keywords: precarious employment; dual labour markets; shipbuilding industry; Sweden; 20th century

JEL-codes: J33; J42; L24; N64

19 pages, September 11, 2015

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