Review: Casualisation at work

Ian Allinson reviews the recent Labour Research Department guide for trade union reps.


The rs21 magazine and web site have carried a number of articles exploring the efforts of casual workers to organise, including sparks, fast food workers, cinema workers, fractional workers in higher education and private sector care staff. There has also been debate about how significant “precariousness” is in explaining the state of working class resistance.

Apart from some general observations in its introductory sections, the pamphlet doesn’t address these questions. Its focus is on setting out the “Heinz 57 varieties” of casualisation, the impact they have on workers, and the legal rights available to challenge them. It also highlights how various unions are trying to tackle casualisation, though some of this seems a slightly rose tinted view.

The pamphlet covers the basics such as the difference between a “worker” and an “employee”, and the definition of self-employment. It includes the latest scams such as “umbrella companies”. There are sections on everything from agency workers and zero hours contracts to volunteers and interns.

The authors haven’t looked narrowly at pay and job security, but considered everything from health and safety to discrimination. Like most Labour Research Department (LRD) publications, the pamphlet is aimed at union activists, so while being authoritative it is written clearly with jargon explained.

I’d recommend anyone trying to tackle casualisation in a workplace or organise casual workers gets hold of a copy. Many union branches are affiliated to the LRD and may already have a copy, be able to order copies cheaply, or give you access via LRD’s online publications database. The LRD is an independent research organisation aimed at the labour movement, not part of the Labour Party, and has been turning out valuable research for the movement since 1912


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