Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Temporary Agency Work as a Means of Achieving Flexicurity?

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Temporary Agency Work as a Means of Achieving Flexicurity?

Article excerpt

Introduction and aim of article

After decades of debate about flexibility, flexicurity has become a new buzzword in working life. Flexicurity refers to both the employer's demand for flexibility and the employee's demand for security (Wilthagen & Tros 2004). Thus, the idea is to solve the flexibility-security trade-off.

Flexicurity is mainly used as a labor market concept, referring to institutional settings that enable staffing flexibility for employers while at the same time providing the labor force with security, e.g., by means of an active labor market policy and unemployment benefits. However, there is also a discussion that mentions temporary agency work as one way of creating a flexicurity system (Berg 2008, Storrie 2007). Thus, the concept is used at the industry level where one private actor on the labor market-the temporary work agency industry-is supposed to manage both flexibility and security. The flexibility dimension is not called into question; the hiring of agency workers entails staffing flexibility for the employers. A survey of workplaces in Sweden revealed that about 50% of workplaces using agency workers declared flexibility (upward or downward) as the motive. The same figure holds true for the UK (Håkansson & Isidorsson 2007). Even though flexibility was not the most common motive, the surveys show that the use of temporary agency workers has the potential to provide flexibility. The security dimension, on the other hand, needs to be scrutinized. According to the employer organization, the temporary work agency functions as an intermediary managing the reallocation of employees to workplaces and industries where there is a shortage of labor. Accordingly, temporary agency workers are kept out of unemployment while simultaneously increasing their employability (Ciett 2011). Also, conditions such as guaranteed wages during periods between assignments function as a security net. However, whether or not the temporary agency industry is successful in providing security has not been subjected to scientific research. Thus this article focuses entirely on the security dimension. The aim of this article is to analyze the potential for the temporary work agency industry providing for the security dimension of the flexicurity model in a Swedish context.

The basic idea of the temporary work agency is to provide workplaces with staff for limited periods. The user firm pays the work agency to provide traditional employer responsibilities such as matching, hiring, and severance. Risk displacement is thus one of the fundamental services provided by the staffing industry. The temporary agency worker is employed by the agency, but the work is performed and managed at the user firm. The temporary agency worker does not have one fixed workplace; he/she has to be mobile and move between different workplaces in accordance with the demands of the user firm. This could be labeled assignment insecurity. However, despite this assignment insecurity, agency workers can still obtain job security since they are employed by a temporary work agency that continuously provides them with new assignments.

Temporary agency work could be described as a triangular relationship (Bergström & Storrie 2003, Håkansson & Isidorsson 2012b, Storrie 2007). There is an employment relationship between the agency worker and the agency, a management relationship between the agency worker and the user firm, and a business relationship between the user firm and the temporary work agency. This triangular relationship is illustrated in Figure 1.

The security dimension concerns both the employment relationship and the management relationship. The employment relationship deals with working conditions such as the type of contract, wages, and training possibilities. The management relationship concerns factors in the day-to-day working situation, e.g., agency workers integration with user firm employees and training possibilities. …

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