Edoardo Ales, Professor of Labour and Industrial Relations at the University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy discusses his research on the transformation of work in the 20th century.
In the last decade my research has focused on the transformation of work, with specific reference to employment as typical form of work relationship that has characterized the 20th century. Precarisation, in the sense of an increase of contingent work, which does not belong to the stable core workforce of the undertaking, has been my first research topic, with specific attention to fixed-term contracts, agency work and false self-employment. A second research topic has been digitalization as a challenge for the traditional subordination model (at risk of autonomization) that may provide new opportunities but also high risks in terms of lack of Labour Law coverage. A third topic has been the impact of precarisation / digitalization on social protection and social security, above all when they are provided though social insurance schemes, but which may hardly cope with the discontinuity typical of precarious and (some kinds of) digital work.
The pandemic has worsened the already miserable conditions of precarious workers, in many cases even withdrawing their positions from the labour market. On the other hand, the pandemic has also worsened the living and working conditions of those who have survived, in the sense that it has increased the pressure on them and the risks connected to their health and safety. One paramount example is that of riders, who have been essential in lock-down and confinement phases, and who were put under unprecedented pressure without any significant improvements of their living and working conditions.
I think there are at least three highly pressing issues with precarious work: the first is to enhance the capacity of employment services and labour market policies to transform precarious work into a stable one; the second is to improve the occupational health and safety of those workers by enacting specific measures; the third is to introduce tailor-made social security schemes that consider the discontinuity of their activity on the labour market. A statutory minimum wage may help.
Researchers have to ring the bell and make policy proposals in order to face the challenges pointed out in the above and they must also offer their expertise to social partners and NGOs, raising their awareness as for the need to protect precarious work.
As just mentioned, more effective employment services, providing skilling or reskilling opportunities and facilitating transitions; a specific occupational health and safety regulation; tailor made social security schemes; stronger commitment by the social partners; statutory minimum wage.
Researchers should combine their theoretical commitment in understanding the complex and multifaceted issues raised by precarious work with the capacity of elaborating practical proposals to policy makers, social partners and NGOs in order to make their work count. We hope that they would listen. Researchers should also present the result of their work to young people in secondary education, in order to offer them the necessary understanding of the complexity of the globalized societies and labour market. Researchers should also directly assist precarious workers willing to establish their own organisations, with the view of having a voice against their exploitation.