Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Papers,
Lund University, Department of Economics

No 2015:11: Off the Waterfront: The Long-run Impact of Technological Change on Dock Workers

Zouheir El-Sahli () and Richard Upward ()
Additional contact information
Zouheir El-Sahli: Department of Economics, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Box 7082, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden
Richard Upward: University of Nottingham

Abstract: We investigate how individual workers and local labour markets adjust over a long time period to a discrete and plausibly exogenous technological shock, namely the introduction of containerisation in the UK port industry. This technology, which was introduced rapidly between the mid-1960s and the late-1970s, had dramatic consequences for specific occupations within the port industry. Using longitudinal micro-census data we follow dock-workers over a 40 year period and examine the long-run consequences of containerisation for patterns of employment, migration and mortality. The results show that the job guarantees protected dock-workers’ employment until their removal in 1989. A matched comparison of workers in com- parable unskilled occupations reveals that, even after job guarantees were removed, dock-workers did not fare worse than the comparison group in terms of their labour market outcomes. Our results suggest that job guarantees may significantly reduce the cost to workers of sudden technological change, albeit at a significant cost to the industry.

Keywords: containerisation; labour markets; England and Wales; dock workers; technological change.

JEL-codes: J51; J64; J65; O33

43 pages, April 14, 2015

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