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Ulrich Beck's Risk Society at Work: Labour and Employment in the Contract Service Industries

John Allen and Nick Henry
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Vol. 22, No. 2 (1997), pp. 180-196
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/622308
Page Count: 17
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Ulrich Beck's Risk Society at Work: Labour and Employment in the Contract Service Industries
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Abstract

Employment in the UK is increasingly taking a variety of contractual forms as different combinations of work time, benefits and entitlements are put together for different groups of workers. Such a shift is frequently explained in terms of increased labour-market flexibility. Here we draw upon Ulrich Beck's account of social risk to argue that insecurity, not flexibility, is an equally, if not more appropriate framework within which to understand the changing nature of employment relationships. Drawing upon research conducted in London and the southeast of England, we take the example of contract labour in the cleaning, catering and security industries to show how employment risk is an ever-present feature of work in these industries. While there is nothing particularly new about job insecurity at the bottom end of service labour markets, the growth in subcontracting and the rationalization of 'marginal' activities by firms and public agencies has produced a situation in which many workers previously in secure jobs now face regular employment on a more precarious, contract labour basis.

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