'Bad' jobs and productivity: The flexibility paradox

job quality

This paper aims to establish whether the increased use of flexible employment has contributed to the slowdown in the growth of productivity in the case of Northern Ireland. The theoretical case for a negative relationship between use of flexible forms of employment and productivity is proposed and explored in detail using Northern Ireland as the case study.

We compare changes in the nature of employment with productivity performance. In doing so, we find correlations between the growth of flexible forms of employment and the retardation of productivity growth across sectors.

Our findings call in to question the dominant belief that employment protection legislation and regulation of the labour market is harmful to the economy, and suggest that a lack of labour market protections, regulations and institutions may have a negative impact on productive performance. This paper is concerned with one of these outcomes in particular, namely productivity.

In taking together the findings and reflecting on the policy implications we argue that the current incarnation of flexibility pursued throughout the UK (including Northern Ireland) synonymises flexible employment with labour market deregulation. It imbues a ‘low-road’ approach to job quality which requires workers to trade off employment conditions for flexible forms of employment and needs to be challenged.

The need for a new framework for extending the rights and protections of the traditional ‘standard’ employment relationship (SER) to those in more flexible or ‘non-standard forms of employment’ is outlined as a means to make decent flexible employment.


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