Over recent years, labour markets have become more flexible. Both firms and workers have been much more adaptable to changing market conditions.
This has been illustrated by responses to the 2008/9 recession and the minimal recovery since then. Many firms have seen a drop in demand for their products and have responded by producing less. But this has not necessarily meant laying off workers. But why not? The following include some of the reasons:
• greater flexibility in hours worked: thus hours can be reduced;
• reduction in real wages because of wages not keeping up with inflation;
• many workers receiving part of their income in the form of profit sharing: when profits fall, employees’ income automatically falls;
• a general reduction in unionisation in the private sector;
• in firms where workers are still unionised, unions and management increasingly seeing themselves to be on the ‘same side’: thus unions more willing to explore flexibility;
• less support from state if people are unemployed;
• greater flexibility from the use of temporary or agency staff: these can be reduced in a recession, thus helping to protect the jobs of established workers.
The following podcast looks at this growing flexibility and why it has helped to restrict the rise in unemployment.
The real economy: Labour market BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis (24/8/11)
Agencies placing more in new jobs Western Mail (4/8/11)
Staff appointments increase at subdued pace in July, according to latest Report on Jobs The Recruitment & Employment Federation, News Release (4/8/11)
Manufacturing week: How we got here The Telegraph, Roland Gribben (27/8/11)
Jobless figures show the real risk of creating a lost generation London Evening Standard, Jonathan Portes, Director, National Institute of Economic and Social Research (17/8/11)
Flexible working: is more legislation needed? Personnel Today, Laura Chamberlain (1/9/11)
Recruitment agencies ‘play a big part’ in flexible working The Sales Director, John Oak (10/8/11)
- Find out what has happened to real GDP, employment and unemployment over the past four years. (Try searching Reference Tables for GDP and Labour Market Statistics on the National Statistics site at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/datasets-and-tables/index.html.)
- Distinguish between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the labour market? How has the relationship between the two groups changed in recent years?
- Distinguish between functional, numerical and financial flexibility of firms? (See Box 9.8 in Economics (7th ed), Web Case 6.2 in Essentials of Economics (5th ed), section 18.7 in Economics for Business (5th ed) or section 8.5 in Economics and the Business Environment (3rd ed).)
- Examine the effects of wage rises being less than the rate of inflation on the profit-maximising number of full-time equivalent people employed. How is this influenced by the rate of increase in the price of other inputs and the ability of the firm to raise prices in line with inflation?
- Should firms be required by law to allow workers to demand flexible working conditions? What forms might such flexibility take?