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Precarious work and precarious workers: Towards an improved conceptualisation
journal contributionposted on 02.01.2018, 00:00 by I Campbell, Robin Price
Discussion of the implications of precarious work for individual workers remains hesitant and often confused. A clear conceptualisation would separate out five analytical levels: precariousness in employment, precarious work, precarious workers individually and as an emerging class, and precarity as a general condition of social life. To illustrate the need to avoid slippage between the concepts of precarious work and precarious workers, we present one ‘theory-relevant’ example – full-time secondary school students in Australia who hold part-time jobs in the retail sector. Their part-time jobs are indeed precarious but the negative effects on the student-workers are modest, both because participation in precarious work is limited (moderate weekly hours and intermittent work within the framework of a brief stage of the life course) and because many (though not all) of the associated risks are cushioned by structural forces such as access to alternative income sources and career paths. At the same time, however, a longitudinal perspective reveals that the same group of student-workers faces major risks in the future, as a result of increasingly insecure labour markets. Reflections on this example help to identify conceptual tools that can be applied to a wide range of other examples of precarious work.