Volume 148 (2009), Number 4
SPECIAL ISSUE: LOW-WAGE WORK IN EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES
The articles in this special issue of the International Labour Review present the findings of a major international comparative research project on low-wage work supported by the Russell Sage Foundation. In his brief introduction, Paul Osterman, who coordinated this special issue of the journal, outlines the rationale and methodology of the research project and explains its significance for public policy aimed at improving job quality at the lower end of the market
KEYWORDS: LOW INCOME, WAGE DIFFERENTIAL, SKILLED WORKER, QUALITY OF WORKING
LIFE, PROJECT EVALUATION, DENMARK, FRANCE, GERMANY, NETHERLANDS, UNITED
KINGDOM, UNITED STATES.
Low-wage work in five European countries and the United States
Analysing research findings on Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the
United Kingdom and the United States, the author shows that the incidence and
conditions of low-paid employment in each country are determined by a set of institutions,
including minimum wage and active labour market policies, tax and social
security systems, and collective bargaining. The widely assumed trade-off between
employment and wages, he argues, is not inescapable: active labour market policies
for individual empowerment and institutions imposing “beneficial constraints” can
prevent improved conditions at the bottom of the earnings distribution from translating
into higher unemployment, while also helping to narrow inequalities.
KEYWORDS: LOW WAGES, WAGE DETERMINATION, DENMARK, FRANCE, GERMANY,
NETHERLANDS, UNITED KINGDOM, UNITED STATES.
Working at the boundary between market and flexicurity: Housekeeping
in Danish hotels
Tor ERIKSSON and Jingkun LI
Though housekeeping in Danish hotels is unskilled, low-paid work, because of Denmark’s
compressed wage structure it is comparatively well paid. The authors examine
the working conditions and experience of housekeepers in eight hotels of various
types, to establish the industry’s response to growing competition and pressure to
restructure. Approaches include reorganizing work, increased work intensity, outsourced
and in-house housekeeping, and Denmark’s own “flexicurity”. Flexible
work arrangements, job security and in-kind social benefits prove to compensate for
scanty unemployment insurance and career prospects.
KEYWORDS: HOTEL INDUSTRY, HOUSEKEEPING, CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT, WORKING
CONDITIONS, WAGES, EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, LABOUR FLEXIBILITY, JOB SATISFACTION,
The French food-processing model: High relative wages and high work
Ève CAROLI, Jérôme GAUTIÉ and Annie LAMANTHE
The authors examine wages and working conditions in meat processing and confectionery
in France. Working there may not require much skill, or command good
wages and working conditions, but this article reveals a more complex, positive situation
than expected, thanks to the “French model’s” national minimum wage and
the extension of collective wage agreements to all workers in the sector. But pressures
to lower labour costs are still felt, and the firms examined must meet pressures
to increase productivity, flexibility and automation. Moreover, retail chains also
seek to lower prices and impose just-in-time production.
KEYWORDS: FOOD PROCESSING, WAGES, LABOUR FLEXIBILITY, WORKING CONDITIONS, JOB
Job quality in call centres in Germany
Since 1995, low-wage employment has increased in Germany, and employers have
tended to seek “exit options” from regulatory frameworks, in order to save on
labour costs. This article reports on studies of six call centres (four from utilities, two
from financial services), exploring the respective impact of institutional frameworks
(notably collective wage agreements and works councils) on work organization, and
pay and working conditions in in-house call centres and external service providers.
The wide variations in pay in German call centres are explained, and the repercussions
of outsourcing on wages are discussed.
KEYWORDS: CALL CENTRE, WAGES, WORKING CONDITIONS, WORK ORGANIZATION,
Retail jobs in the Netherlands: Low pay in a context of long-term wage
Maarten VAN KLAVEREN, Wiemer SALVERDA and Kea TIJDENS
Wage moderation has been at the heart of the Netherlands’ model of socio-economic
governance since the 1980s. Low-paid employment has grown significantly, lower
wages being constrained by declining minimum wages. Lagging incomes and consumption
have depressed demand in retail, whose workforce – especially young
people – accepted low-paid, part-time jobs. Low pay tends to reduce job quality – a
phenomenon which has been heightened by the exceptionally long tail of youth
minimum wages and the education grant system allowing students to work and
skewing the labour market against young full-time jobseekers. The current crisis
may thwart retail’s budding re-professionalization.
KEYWORDS: RETAIL TRADE, LOW WAGES, ARRANGEMENT OF WORKING TIME, EMPLOYMENT,
Can more inclusive wage-setting institutions improve low-wage work?
Pay trends in the United Kingdom’s public-sector hospitals
International research findings highlight the important role of institutions in shaping
the wage structure of an economy. Evidence from a sample of seven public hospitals
in the United Kingdom confirms those findings, suggesting that a more coordinated
and centralized system of wage-setting (including extension of public-sector conditions
to outsourced workers) improves pay for low-wage cleaners and assistant
nurses. Renewal of wage-setting institutions provides a necessary but insufficient
foundation for the elimination of low-wage work. Employee investment in skill
development, career advancement and skill-based pay require management’s commitment
to the design of new, higher-skilled jobs and the strengthening of internal
KEYWORDS: HOSPITAL, LOW WAGES, WAGE DETERMINATION, CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT, PUBLIC SECTOR, UNITED KINGDOM.