Flex work for every type of labour

Recent years have seen a decrease in the percentage of workers in the Netherlands with a permanent employment contract. Meanwhile, the percentage of ‘flex workers’ – workers on temporary contracts – is growing. Because there are many different types of flex work, this group is difficult to map. Correlations can be found, however: between the type of flex work and the nature of the activities carried out, for example, and between the type of flex work and the profession. These are the findings of a new analysis by Dr Wendy Smits, endowed professor of Labour Market Flexibility: The Employer’s Perspective, which she will present during her inaugural lecture at Maastricht University today. Research into the consequences of flex work needs to take these differences into account, she argues. But more research is needed to map the vulnerable group of freelancers.

The Netherlands has an especially large variety of flex workers, including employees with long-term contracts, on-call workers, temps and freelancers. These groups vary in terms of the activities they do, the sectors they work in, and their education levels. The motivation for being a flex worker – and for hiring one – also differs between the various types of flex work.

There is a great deal of public debate in the Netherlands on both the causes and the consequences of the rising number of flex workers. When it comes to the consequences, commentators fall into roughly two camps. The first believes that flex work leads to a more efficient labour market. It enables companies to adapt rapidly to fluctuations in demand for their products. Moreover, it allows jobseekers to return to work and gain work experience. The other camp, by contrast, believes that flex work leads to flagging productivity because the large supply of cheap labour gives companies little incentive to invest in labour-saving technologies. In this view, flex work does not lead to better labour-market prospects for flex workers because companies do not invest in training them, leaving them to languish in unappealing, poorly paid jobs.

“Research on the consequences of flex work needs to take these differences into account”, says Smits. “Many workers on long-term temporary contracts are highly educated and receive opportunities for further training. For this group, flex work can be a step towards a stable career. On-call workers tend to be school or university students, who deliberately choose flex work because it’s easy to combine with their studies. Temps, on the other hand, are often reluctant flex workers who do relatively routine work. This is a vulnerable group, typically with a low to medium education level, for whom employment opportunities are dwindling. “Finally, there are freelancers. This is a particularly heterogeneous group that encompasses successful entrepreneurs and knowledge workers, but also schijnzelfstandigen – people with only one or two clients who therefore don’t really qualify as self-employed – and other vulnerable groups who are poorly paid and have little job security. More research is needed to map this vulnerable group.”

Further information: https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/dossier/dossier-flexwerk

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