Employment and Labor Conditions among Highly Skilled Workers, from Flexibility to Precariousness: A case study on research workers
Centre for Social Studies - Associate Laboratory University of Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
This paper intends to present the results of a research recently developed, regarding precariousness of the employment market for highly skilled segments of the workforce.
Sociological theorization has been studying the development of employment markets and work conditions, relating their increasing flexibility to globalization of markets and the competitiveness needed by companies. The workforce has often been addressed as increasingly divided in two segments: one precarious, unskilled with low wages, reduced chance of mobility, weak bargaining power and possibility of participation; another flexible, highly skilled with high wages, high potential for mobility, and able to negotiate good working conditions. However, it is argued that the development of the capitalist system, further aggravated by its crisis, is leading to an increased insecurity for all workers, independently of their skill, towards a qualified proletariat.
Thus this research constitutes a case study, addressing a group of highly skilled professionals: research workers in Portugal. Indeed, a large part of scientific work is done by researchers with ?scientific research scholarships?, which are granted for a specific research unrelated to any degree acquisition. As such, lacking an employment contract, these workers are in a precarious condition, without any labor rights and low social rights.
It was found that a large number of research workers maintain a precarious situation for long periods, without ever obtaining a contract, working conditions being as diverse as the areas of scientific research. Still, generally, research workers consider their working conditions satisfactory, albeit the dissatisfaction with the precarious employment.
Paradoxically, given their precarious situation, research workers show very little participation, or initiatives of negotiation for changes in the scientific employment policies. This is explained namely by lack of a union, for there is only an association with weak bargaining power, with which workers show little identification. Furthermore, the degree of satisfaction at work and cultural factors arising from status inconsistency and high-class habitus adverse to protest, are also factors for low participation.
Concluding, this research contributes to a better understanding of the development of employment markets, regarding highly skilled workers, shedding light on their expanding precarious employment and other challenges it faces.