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Changes in Employment

In recent years, there have been dramatic changes in employment

which have affected practically all members of the work force. The

changes include the decline of traditional industries, such as coalmin-

ing, shipbuilding and steel-making, creating structural unemployment,

technological unemployment among both manual and white-collar

workers, owing to the increased use of computers and automation, or-

ganizational changes in big companies, which have reduced the size of

firms and the number of managers, flexible working, which has replaced

full-time jobs by a variety of part-time and temporary jobs.

Let us examine these changes – and their effects – in more detail.

For the last 30 years or so, there has been a gradual decline in the tradi-

tional industries of shipbuilding, steel-making and coalmining, which

were the basis of the first industrial revolution. Hundreds of thousands of

miners, shipyard workers and steelworkers were made redundant. Struc-

tural unemployment affected: mainly manual workers in the primary and

secondary sectors. However, technological change, which was brought

about by the increasing use of computers and automation, affected both

manual and white-collar workers. During the 1980s and 1990s, many

office workers and managers were made redundant as computers: took

over their jobs.

Increasing foreign competition, particularly from the Far East, forced

many British companies to become more efficient by cutting costs.

Companies did this by: downsizing, or dismissing employees, which in-





creased productivity as the same amount of work was now done by a

smaller number of employees, contracting out the work of whole sec-

tions or departments, such as publicity, to specialist firms which could

do the work more cheaply, reducing the size of the company, by selling

off unprofitable businesses.

Between 2000 and 2005, Britain’s 100 biggest companies shed almost

400,000 jobs. ВТ got rid of the biggest number – 88,500 jobs. To save

even more money, many big companies started to replace permanent

full-time jobs by part-time temporary jobs. They retained a core of key

workers with special skills. These employees have full-time jobs with rea-

sonable job security and chances of promotion. However, the remaining

employees, the flexible work force, are employed only when their labour

is required. This reduces a company’s salaries and wages bill, but adds

greatly to the employees’ feeling of insecurity.

There is a great range of flexible working, including:

Short-term contracts. Employees are given a short-term contract for a

year or 18 months instead of a permanent job.

Part-time work. There has been a huge rise in part-time jobs of all

kinds, ranging from the unskilled office cleaner’s to the highly skilled

computer consultant’s. They have increased four and a half times, to

over 6 million, in the last 10 years.

Temporary work. At one time, temporary workers were used mainly

to cover for permanent employees who were ill or on holiday. That has

changed. In some big companies, up to 10 per cent of the work force are

temporary workers. This cuts a company’s costs as ‘temps’ are employed

only if there is a special job to be done.

Teleworking. There has been an increase in teleworking, or working at

home using computers and information technology to maintain contact

with company headquarters. About 6 per cent of firms use teleworking


Some progressive employers look after their employees better by pro-

viding flexible hours instead of flexible work. This gives employees more

choice about when they work, which is particularly useful for working

mothers. There are various forms of flexible hours, including:

Flexitime or flexible working hours. Employees work an agreed num-

ber of hours of core-time each day, but may choose when they work the

rest of their hours.

Four-day week. By working longer hours, employees do five days’

work in four days and have the other three days off. Term-time working.

Parents (usually mothers) work full-time during the school terms, but

have unpaid leave during the school holidays so that they can look after

their children.




Job sharing. Two people share the same job and split the salary be-

tween them. One might work in the morning and the other in the after-

noon or they might work alternate weeks.

Career breaks. An employee is allowed to take unpaid leave for a year

or more and can return to the same, or a similar, job at the end of the

break. This is useful for women who have to look after children or rela-

tives; for study; or for employees who want a refreshing break.

1. Describe flexible working in your own words.

2. How do flexible hours benefit employees?

3. What has caused a large-scale redundancy?


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