The debates on the shape and form of gaining livelihood preceded the emergence of the sociology work as a separate sub-discipline of social science. They were strongly connected with the crises of socio-economic system which finally took the shape of contemporary capitalism. According to Karl Marx and, more recently, Beverly Silver or David Harvey, capitalist drive towards constant capital accumulation, which has become an imperative of this system, leads to spatial fixes (geographical expansion), technological fixes (e.g. automation, robotisation, digitalisation), product fixes (moving capital to new industries) and financial fixes (shifting capital to financial markets). Based on the critical sociology of work tradition, it can be argued that all above revolve around equally rapid “organizational shifts.” The latter refer to changes in organizing the work process and controlling workers, and thus the key ways of effective accumulation. Moreover they refer also to “boundary fixes” which concern, inter alia, the evolving relationship between productive and reproductive work and the socially constructed distinctions between “work” and “leisure”. Arguably, all types of “fixes” are likely to follow the largest – in terms of its coverage – socio-economic crisis of the 21st century caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on what we already know it can be safely assumed that pandemic is likely to accelerate the digitalisation and algorithmisation trend in the sphere of work leading to the further expansion of remote forms of working, platform economy and other forms of organisational and technical innovation. Pandemic also led to the redefinition of the social and symbolic boundaries of work manifested, among others, in further expansion of precarious work, the greater health-related risks of “offline”, “essential” workers and the need of “boundary work” in case of those unwillingly shifted to remote working. Arguments are also being made about accelerating the implementation of production techniques that do not require human presence (robotization). This session – organized over two years after the start of pandemic – aims at examining which of the changes accelerated by COVID-19 and earlier global structural crises of capitalism are likely to shape the future of work? We invite in particular, but not exclusively, the proposals of empirical papers on the topics such as digitalisation, automation, platformisation, precarisation, boundary work, the evolution of “essential work” and remote work, changing socio-economic consciousness and life strategies of workers and the crisis-driven evolution of industrial relations, with particular emphasis on comparative and longitudinal contributions. Studies proposing new interpretations of the phenomena of interest using the concept of critical sociology of work will also be welcomed.
The future of work in the (post-)pandemic reality
Referaty w części 1, pasmo IV 16.09, 16:00-17:30
The presented paper is a summary of the last 4 years of research on platform work (qualitative research conducted among Uber drivers in 2018-2020 and among Glovo, Uber Eats and Wolt couriers in 2021). In my research, I focused on work insecurity and its consequences for the individual, adopting the context of weak, patchwork, semi-peripheral capitalism that characterizes Poland and the countries of the region.
Research has shown that platform work meets most of the characteristics of precarious work, but at the same time it has become much more important to take into account the subjective point of view. Surprisingly, the predominant sense of temporariness among platform workers (the casual nature of this job, the lack of career and stability prospects) resulted in platform workers’ job satisfaction, despite objectively unfavorable working conditions, which somewhat contradicts the classic, negative assessment of precarious work. Treating this work as a temporary activity, as an episode in their professional career, they chose it because of its advantages, such as autonomy and flexibility, whereas its evident weaknesses, e.g. low earnings, actual lack of agency or the need to submit to the power of algorithms, were irrelevant in their decision-making horizon.
Therefore, one of the features of this type of work in Polish context turned out to be crucial – its subjective assessment, much higher than in the classic model of precarious work. In the case of platform workers, the dominant sense of temporariness turned out to be significant. The conviction that the work they were doing was not their target job made it easier for them to accept unfavorable conditions. However, instead of being “self-entrepreneur” as they would like, they only gained the illusion of influencing the work they were doing. And their success in the labor market was determined by an algorithm, the principles of which they did not know. Instead of freedom and autonomy in work, they got jobs that were decided by technology. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic added one more context to this – it showed that despite the obvious flaws and precarious nature, platform work is still the only alternative for many Polish workers in a threat of unemployment, and because the job offers on the Polish labor market often relate to low-quality jobs, with poor security and junk contracts, platform work does not differ much.
Taking the employees’ perspective, I analyze the actual, bottom-up functioning of precarious platform work. Then the mechanism of imbalance, exploitation and manipulation appears, which the surveyed employees were unaware of. Considering platform work in the context of precariousness also refutes the myth that the work of drivers or couriers is only the embodiment of progress. Platform workers are often people who have not been able to find a job in a different industry, and the extremely high inclusiveness of this profession makes it attractive especially for vulnerable groups of employees. Behind the success of the platforms stays the very low-paid work of many people, who, in addition, have no influence on it, because the scale of their earnings and working conditions are determined by the algorithm, not skills or commitment.
The presented research on platform work also showed how global corporations have adapted to local regulations. In Poland, the institution of a fleet partner turned out to be a salvation for the further functioning of Uber and similar platforms. The institutional and legislative inconsistency with regard to platform work in Poland and the apparent adjustment of a global corporation to the existing local legal requirements allowed for the emergence of an entity (fleet partner) that was not present in any other country implementing this business model.
COVID-19 outbreak and mass transition to remote work in Poland: change in work patterns and people’s adaptation strategies
Development of modern societies is determined by digitalization. Industry 4.0, uberisation, new media, smart factories, IoT, 3D-printing, cyber-physical systems, neural networks, cloud computing and AI led to a breakdown of the pre-digital business algorithms and models. Digitalization is profoundly changing labor landscape and results in rethinking of the work concept itself. The pandemic contributed to further deepening and acceleration of the employment digital transformation, which resulted in unforeseen deformations in labor institutions and employment patterns. This entails new unexplored risks, reduces labor market’s manageability and controllability, requires urgent theoretical understanding, search for methodological measurement tools and empirical assessment.
Although digital labor practices existed before the COVID-19 outbreak, most countries were not sufficiently prepared for the surge in online employment caused by the pandemic. There are several reasons for this: lack of specific online work guidelines in most organizations, inability of many online platforms to be used in the work environment, the need to adjust working processes to online features, imperfect organizational mechanisms for managing remote working processes, insufficient digital literacy of employees and employers, limited workers’ access to digital infrastructure etc. For many companies and workers remote work became a challenge and an improvisation as they had not had any similar experience before.
Since labor market is one of the key institutions in a modern society, it is extremely important to carry out an urgent reflection of its ongoing changes. Sociology has a unique set of tools that allow receiving the population’s feedback through opinion polls, which is quite valuable for operational harmonizing labor and employment policies with people’s expectations. It will help develop adequate and reliable policy responses for labor markets, which will best meet the actual needs of societies, organizations and individuals.
Our research project “Social aspects of labor and employment transformation in the digital age” is aimed to provide such advisory support for decision makers. It is being realized in 2021–2022 in the Polish Institute of Advanced studies PAN and based on the author’s original methodology. Our research goals include studying of the workers’ labor practices and strategies of adapting to the massive shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, constructing of the socio-economic profiles of workers involved in remote work, evaluating perspectives of the COVID-19’s long-term impact on employment and framing best-practice policy recommendations to optimize labor, employment and social protection policies based on the population’s feedback.
To gather the empirical data 10 online workers in Poland with different job profiles, family structure and personal characteristics will be interviewed during the spring-summer 2022.
The in-depth interviews will be based on the empirical indicators, incl.:
‒ skills and access: digital skills, technical access to remote work opportunities, understanding of cyber risks and skills to prevent them, online work experience prior to the COVID-19 outbreak;
‒ organization of work: work regime and schedule, time and intensity, working conditions (workplace, adaptability of home environment to work), work management and autonomy, patterns and modality of teamwork, communication with coworkers and supervisors, salaries (pay cuts?);
‒ psychological mediators of work: satisfaction with work, work motivation, efficiency self-evaluation, feeling of personal performance, ability to planning and self-organization, work-life balance (integration/separation/blurring of work and family roles), physical and psychological health (stress, anxiety, feelings of isolation / support, risk of losing a job, organization commitment.
The effects of precarious work for subjective well-being – does the institutional context matter? A comparison of Germany, Poland and the U.S.
Katarzyna Kopycka, Anna Kiersztyn,
współautorzy: Viktoriia Sovpenchuk
In this presentation we compare the effects of precarious employment careers on the subjective well-being of workers in three different socio-economic contexts: the liberal market economy of the U.S., the German coordinated market economy and the post-socialist economy of Poland. We apply a novel approach to defining and measuring precarious employment in quantitative studies, which, in our view, is better suited for cross-country analyses than the standard measures of fixed-term employment or subjective job insecurity.
There is ample evidence showing that job insecurity is related to lower life- and work satisfaction, higher stress levels and poorer health outcomes of workers. The theoretical rationale behind this association pertains to the key role of employment in work-centered societies not only as a means of earning a livelihood but especially as a source of social identity. However, the role of the national institutional settings as a moderator of these effects is still poorly understood. While several studies indicate that labour market policies, especially unemployment benefits, as well as stricter employment protection legislation for non-standard employment, may reduce the negative implications of unemployment for subjective well-being and health, ambiguity persists with respect to cross-country differences regarding the impact of precarious employment on well-being indicators.
This ambiguity is exacerbated by the difficulties involved in constructing an internationally comparable indicator of employment precarity based on existing survey data, for use in quantitative research. Direct subjective evaluations of job insecurity do not offer a solution, as they may themselves be affected by general well-being, causing problems of endogeneity. The few existing cross-national studies, notably, confined to Europe, use fixed-term employment as an operationalization of objective job insecurity. This, however, raises questions of comparability, given differences in the ways that labour relations are institutionalized and codified across countries. Furthermore, such a definition excludes an increasing share of potentially precarious self-employed workers. In order to overcome these difficulties, we conceptualize precarity as a characteristic of employment career sequences experienced by individuals, using measures which capture basic labour market statuses and events (like employer changes, staying out of work), that convey a comparable meaning across different institutional contexts. Specifically, we define as precarious career sequences involving high job turnover, periods of joblessness, and low income, and propose a quantification of precarity in the form of an index. By means of multivariate OLS regression models we then assess the conditional effects of precarious career sequences on subjective well-being in the three countries of interest, using data from panel surveys: the Polish Panel Survey, the German Socio-Economic Panel, and the U.S. National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth NLSY97.
Our study is part of the Cross-National Biographies of Youth (CNB-Young) project (crossnationalbiographies.edu.pl/en), which harmonizes longitudinal data to create an open-source research infrastructure enabling the cross-national comparative study of employment precarity among young adults.
One of the most important spheres that have come under exceptional pressure in the face of the pandemic is the world of work. From paid work in different sectors and at different levels of the social structure, to the unpaid work, the relationship between private life and work, the organisation of work, the question of the quality of work itself and the quality of the workplace, the context of the pandemic crisis has left a clear mark on the academic debate centred on this issue. Some industries have undergone rapid intensification (logistics, medical, ecommerce, gig economy), some have had to undergo drastic reorganisation (the introduction of remote working primarily in the education industry) and some have been hit by an exceptionally sharp recession (catering, hospitality, fitness).
It is difficult at this point to pinpoint a clear direction of change in the post-pandemic world, although the growing importance of the sharing economy, increased control over workers, a further shift away from permanent forms of employment, or an increasing number of workers seconded to work from home are all predicted. One of the key questions is how the pandemic will leave its mark on labour mobilisation processes. On the one hand, it may weaken the position of classical trade unions; on the other, it may contribute to increased awareness among the employed themselves.
In this paper I will focus on three industries (education, healthcare and logistics) which are the basis for the COV-WORK research project focused on the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic for the world of work in Poland. On the basis of focus group interviews, expert and biographical interviews, and using discourse analysis of selected Polish media (newspapers and news portals), I will analyse, on the one hand, the course of the pandemic modifying the work environment in mentioned branches. On the other, the main directions of the debate related to their predictable future and labour market in general. My theoretical framework is Hartmut Rosa’s concept of acceleration and its application to the analysis of the empirical material. It is argued that in addition to acceleration, the impact of pandemic on the world of work can be discussed in terms of slowing down, initiating and blocking. Each of them will be analysed regarding empirical material collected in the COV-WORK project.
What changes are needed in the education and qualification systems for the elderly in order to meet the challenges of modern economy? The case of Bulgaria
Kremena Borissova-Marinova, Marta Sugareva
The study focusses on some of the weak points of the education and qualification systems for elderly in Bulgaria and the possibilities for their improvement in order to widen the potential for the integration of elderly in the labour force.
The study is based on the results of a study of some leading tendencies in the evolution of socio-demographic characteristic of elderly labour force in Bulgaria for the period 2001-2021 including possibilities for remote work and digital skills during the pandemic. To achieve a fuller and more objective evaluation, an international comparison was made with selected European countries (for example, Greece, Hungary, Czechia and Sweden). The analysis includes some indicators of general and age-specific levels of economic activity, working-age population replacement rates, age and educational structures of the labour force and inactive persons and others.
Care work in a post-pandemic world. The status of reproductive work in the context of non-standard employment and precarisation.
In the paper the approach toward work in the care work sector is discussed. Paper asks the question: how does ideology of work operate among care workers? This question is answered in the context of COVID-19 pandemic that revealed a huge amount of hidden reproductive work that during the pandemic was portrayed as essential. Despite its necessity higher remuneration hasn’t followed. Based on that observation the meaning of work in the context of ideology of work is analysed. Informants provide information about: approaches toward work, why they work, what value does the work have for them. They present their working trajectories and experiences with non-standard forms of employment.
Non-standard contracts allow to analyse care workers as precarious workers. This institutional context is important, because in the XX and XXI century care work has become more and more commodified and organised by public and private institutions, however this commodification has been followed by creating precarious occupations. Using the framework of the ideology of work allows to analyse how the need for work in precarious jobs and the exploitation among precarious workers is legitimised in: discourse, biographical narrations and on the individual level of identity.
Research is based on narrative individual interviews with polish care workers (up to 40 y.o.) with non-standard employment, interviews are conducted in the year 2022. Care work is understood as reproductive work, in the framework of marxist theory, especially the feminist marxism. The key context for the analysis is the ambiguous status of reproductive work. On the one hand it is essential for maintaining the reproduction of capitalism by producing and reproducing life, in this context meaning taking care of kids, sick and elders. On the other hand, this kind of work is usually hidden and unpaid. Ideology of work is understood as all meanings and attributions of work that serve legitimation of working order and sustain unequal power relations. Ideology of work is produced in public and individual discourses and is manifested in statements, opinions and behaviours.
Even though governments continued introducing digital nomad visas for knowledge workers during the pandemic, their calls lack addressing labor issues such as social security, taxation, and other related rights. However, each time these announcements cause extensive conversations among digital nomads, which can be observed from the entries related to the topic and zoom meetings organized by the moderators of the forums. On the other hand, the preliminary analysis of discussions in online forums where digital nomads discuss opportunities and possibilities for beginning their journey to maintaining the lifestyle demonstrates this imaginary’s precarious and uncertain nature, especially to the individuals who are not aware of the risks. Based on 297 screenshots-entries of the digital nomads- taken from the online forums during the second year of the pandemic, I observe that most of the job seekers are predominantly advised to find temporary employment through global platforms such as Upwork or invited to join similar projects, startups organized by experienced digital nomads. Before the Pandemic, one of the main steps to becoming a digital nomad was to gain the ability to work remotely. The preliminary findings show that remote workers who would like to follow the lifestyle cannot because of the twofold reasons: (1) the employers do not allow them to move beyond the states they are employed even within the EU, (2) workstations provided by employers are usually not portable,