Making Agency Work: Two Labour Regimes in a UK Logistics Workplace

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An expanded use of agency workers has followed a series of economic shocks in the UK since the 2008 financial crisis. Agency workers, unlike permanent workers, comprise a wide range of workers without regular, secure and long-term employment relations. In this article we examine the inherently contradictory employment relationship embodied by agency workers, namely employers’ wish to stabilise and make the workforce more predictable by bringing in agency workers under insecure and unstable employment terms. Based on a significant single case study of a distribution centre, the study compares two agency work regimes: one with systematic screening and employment of pre-formed workers, and the other with strong normative control over fragmented under-formed workers. The study details management strategies aimed to improve workforce stability in the more fragmented agency worker regime by bringing an employment intermediatory on-site, building coherency between the permanent and agency workers, and restraining the supervisor’s power of dismissal. These findings problematise framing agency employment based on an assumption of continuous and selective inflow of migrant workers. Rather, contrasting agency worker regimes demonstrates contested employment relations between an increasingly diverse group of agency workers and an employer seeking to instigate predictability and coherency in agency employment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-247
Number of pages22
JournalWork in Global Economy
Issue number2
Early online date17 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

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