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VI Seminário do Trabalho

27th May 2008, UNESP, Marília

Dimensões do Trabalho no Século XXI

The dynamics of the global

restructuring of employment

Ursula Huws
Professor of International Labour Studies
London Metropolitan University, and
Director, Analytica Social and Economic Research
© Ursula Huws, 2008
One face of globalisation
© Ursula Huws, 2008
a second face

» in February 2004, 30 Chinese

workers collecting shellfish on
British beach were caught by the
incoming tide. 18 were drowned.
They had been given no safety
equipment and spoke no English.
Many were under the age of 20. © Ursula Huws, 2008
globalisation and the mobility
of work – a double process

» increasing movement of people to jobs (‘migration’)

» increasing movement of jobs to people (‘offshoring’)
» a new typology of jobs is emerging
» ‘fixed’ jobs
» ‘footloose’ jobs
» ‘fractured’ jobs
» one of the ironies of the present phase of globalisation is
that the ‘fixed’ jobs are increasingly done by ‘footloose’
people, whilst the ‘footloose’ jobs are done by ‘rooted’ or
‘fixed’ people
» The ‘fractured’ category covers many permutations of
fixedness and mobility in a complex and rapidly-changing

© Ursula Huws, 2008

the fixed jobs

» many activities require a physical presence on a

particular spot of ground, e.g.:
» cleaning
» construction
» agriculture
» personal care services
» food preparation
» mining
» some production activities
» jobs are typically physically strenuous and low-qualified
» increasingly likely to be filled by migrant workers
» strong tendency of informalisation of these sectors of
the economy
» jobs are typically precarious, low-paid, stressful and
carry many health risks

© Ursula Huws, 2008

the footloose jobs

» enabled by:
» access to cheap and reliable telecommunications
» digitisation of information
» interoperability of systems
» spread of ICT literacy
» increasingly generic software packages
» increasing use of global languages (especially English)
» liberalisation of trade (including trade in services; IP)
» in short, there is now a new global division of
labour in information-processing work as well
as in manufacturing

© Ursula Huws, 2008

a challenge for sociology
» we now have a world in which there are many workers
who have:
» a common labour process
» a common relation to capital
» working for the same employers
» often using the same global languages/corporate jargon at work
» but occupying different positions in the local society
» do these workers constitute a common class?
» if so, there are deep divisions (including ethnic and
gender divisions) to be overcome before a common class
consciousness can develop.
» globalisation has created new reserve armies outside the
borders of the individual nation state – both of manual
workers and of ‘knowledge workers’.
» The global reserve army of ‘knowledge workers’ has in
part been explicitly encouraged by the education/aid
policies of the World Bank, EU etc.

© Ursula Huws, 2008

Some starting points for
researching the dynamics of global
» Globalisation of employment cannot be seen in isolation from
other aspects of globalisation
» Drivers of capitalist expansion include:
» Search for new raw materials
» Search for new activities to transform into commodities
» Search for new sites of capital accumulation
» Search for new markets
» Search for new places to dump waste/surpluses
» As well as search for new sources of cheap and/or compliant labour
» Modelling the interactions of these drivers is complex
» The underlying logic is that of commodification and
» Restructuring of employment in space and time can best be
understood in a broader context of industrial reorganisation
» A dual process of decomposition and recomposition of sectors,
organisations, labour processes and skills

© Ursula Huws, 2008

The dynamics of structural

» The transformation of tacit knowledge into

codified knowledge
» Standardisation of existing processes; which in
turn makes possible:
» Management by results (or performance
indicators); which in turn makes possible:
» Remote management – displacement in terms
of both time and space
» Organisational disaggregation (either internally
or externally; which in turn leads to:
» Elaboration of value chains – contractually
(proliferation of separate legal entitities) or
spatially or both
© Ursula Huws, 2008
Different forms of restructuring

in-house outsourced
» separate cost » temp agency
on the » market testing » body shopping
» reskilling » spin-off company
premises » introduction of
» external supplier
new working
practices working on premises

» back office
» offshore to dependent
miles » home teleworkers company
away » nomadic workers » offshore to global supplier
» clients’ premises » offshore to strategic partner
» other branch » ‘global sourcing’
© Ursula Huws, 2008
Some general issues

» Need to take account of supply side

» growth of powerful new multinationals
providing outsourced business services –
especially to the public sector
» An incremental process:
(standardisation > market testing > outsourcing
> offshoring > global sourcing)
» Modularisation can be the basis for
aggregation or disaggregation; centralisation
or decentralisation

© Ursula Huws, 2008

new occupational identities and
career trajectories
» need for constant updating of skills (‘lifelong
» continuous change in job description
» destruction or erosion of clear occupational
identities – traditional qualification-based,
technology-based or company-based identities
replaced by ‘pick and mix’ permutations of
standardised skills and competencies
» increasing need for responsiveness to customer
demand – driving acceleration of pace of work and
extension of working hours
» transfers of personnel in outsourcing relationships
may transform career paths: new threats; new

© Ursula Huws, 2008

The main impacts on employment are
qualitative rather than quantitative

»loss of bargaining power – the ‘reserve

army effect’
»decline in traditional, open-ended
permanent employment contracts
»increase in precariousness
»appropriation of workers’ knowledge
»continuous benchmarking of performance
»downward pressure on wages

© Ursula Huws, 2008

What can we conclude?
» The ‘new economy’ is not autonomous from
the ‘old’.
» The new sectors and occupations which have
grown up to deal with the processing of
digitised information and telecommunication
can be viewed as formalised expressions of
the increasingly elaborated division of labour
across the whole economy
» The ‘knowledge’ which is supposed to form
the basis of these new jobs has not come
from nowhere but is just an explicit and
standardised form of the knowledge which
used to be held tacitly be workers in ‘old’ jobs
© Ursula Huws, 2008
» In other words, these developments are both
enabled by the codification of workers’
existing skills and knowledge and lead to
further codification
» This leads simultaneously both to new forms
of (relatively ‘creative’) ‘knowledge work’ and
new forms of Taylorism
» Inherently double-edged nature of these
changes (simultaneously exclusionary and
inclusionary nature of any occupational
© Ursula Huws, 2008
The importance of creative
» The creativity of individual workers thus lies at the heart
of the development process
» Human creativity is essential:
» to invent new processes
» to customise them
» to invent new products
» to provide content
» to communicate
» To keep us all distracted and entertained
» (to give life meaning?)’
» Contradictions for employers between need to control,
standardise and abstract knowledge and need to keep
new creation flowing (danger of ‘killing the goose that
lays the golden eggs’)
» What happens inside the heads of workers is therefore
the key to deciding what forms the future of work will

© Ursula Huws, 2008

for further information


© Ursula Huws, 2008