Accepted Paper:

From 'mutuality' to 'precariousness': a case-study in the Portuguese call-centre industry  


Patrícia Alves de Matos (CRIA-ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore how 'mutuality at work' is currently being challenged by practices and representations of 'labour precariousness' in the Portuguese call-centre industry, thus contributing to a new social division of labour between 'stable' and 'precarious workers'.

Paper long abstract:

Precarious forms of employment characterized by insecure short-term jobs increasingly mark modern forms of work. Many aspects characterize precariousness in labour relationships. They include the fragile contractual relation between employer and employee; the vulnerability associated with possibilities of work in the future; the low wage salaries tied to activities with an inferior status; and by the loss, felt by such workers, of the social rights which were once connected to a stable and long term job (Paugam, 2000).

A very large portion of Portuguese call-centres is associated with temporary work firms, and represent at this moment one of the most rapidly growing forms of work in Portugal. In April 2004, a Portuguese economic journal indicated that between 0.7% and 1% of the active national population was currently working in call-centres, and they estimated that Portugal would be the country of fifth largest growth of this labour activity among countries of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The picture is also similar in Great Britain and France.

Based on ethnographic research, currently in progress, in a telecommunications call-centre it will be argued that call-centre work represents a paradigmatic case in order to understand how 'labour precariousness' is continuously produced and reproduced through the practices and representations attached to the labour process. It will be argued that in order to develop an operational concept of 'labour precariousness' firstly one needs to understand the processes through which 'precarious workers' are distinguished and opposed to 'stable workers' in specific labour settings.

Panel W057
Flexible capitalism: new forms of mutuality and diversity at work?