The article, “Tackling some myths about temporary jobs” (OECD Observer, No. 231/232), seeks to “re-balance” a debate which you consider to have been distorted by unfounded assertions. It appears to be based on the assumption that no one has a good word to say for temporary employment. But on the contrary, the view that temporary work is of some advantage, to employers at least, is commonplace. As you note, it increases labour market flexibility by making it easier for employers to hire and fire workers in line with shifting demands. You also refer to the scope for employers to screen possible long-term recruits while they are temporarily employed.
The larger question, however, is whether these advantages to employers should be allowed to outweigh the drawbacks. If all the drawbacks were suffered only by employers it might make sense to leave them to make up their own minds without regulation. However, despite your efforts to minimise the disadvantages for workers, these are far from negligible. A brief summary of the disadvantages from a worker perspective would include: lower pay; limited access to paid vacations, sick leave, unemployment insurance and training (and this despite the “equal treatment” principle of European regulation); and of course the inherent insecurity. It is suggested that account should be taken of the profile of temporary workers – they are disproportionately younger and less well educated. But one might question why temporary jobs are disproportionately filled by those who are vulnerable in labour market terms.To argue that the gap in overall job satisfaction between temporary and permanent workers is quite small is disingenuous when temporary workers report (elsewhere) that they are much less satisfied with pay and job security than permanent workers. They also more often report inflexible work schedules and monotonous work tasks. That some workers make a successful transition from unemployment or inactivity to secure labour market status via temporary work, while certainly true, is not on its own a conclusive argument in favour of temporary work. Some evidence is required that this transition could not have been accomplished otherwise.David Foden
Brussels, Belgium© OECD Observer No. 233, August 2002