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J Epidemiol Community Health 61:276-277 doi:10.1136/jech.2005.045237
  • Precarious employment and health
  • Research agenda

Precarious employment and health: developing a research agenda

  1. J Benach1,
  2. C Muntaner2
  1. 1Health Inequalities Research Group, Occupational Health Research Unit, Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2Social Equity and Health Section, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
 J Benach
 Health Inequalities Research Group, Occupational Health Research Unit, Department of Health and Experimental Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, C/Dr Aiguader, 88, 08003 Barcelona, Spain; joan.benach{at}upf.edu

    New types of work arrangements can be as dangerous as traditional unemployment for workers’ health

    Since at least the late 1970s, “flexible production” has commonly been considered as a positive and necessary innovation to ensure sustainable economic growth.1,2 The need to be “flexible” has been proposed for workplace technical systems, schedules and salaries, and “flexibility” has even been recognised as a positive feature of a worker’s personality. Increasing labour flexibility means reducing the constraints on the movement of workers into and out of jobs previously constrained by labour laws, union agreements, training systems or labour markets that protect workers’ income and job security.3

    Within this context, one of the best-known outcomes of labour market flexibility has been the growth of “atypical” forms of employment and the decline of the “standard” full-time, permanent jobs. Thus, the standard full-time permanent job with benefits is now often replaced with different forms of non-standard work arrangements such as contingent, part-time contract, unregulated underground work or home-based work, many of which are characterised by variable work schedules, reduced job security, lower wages, hazards at the workplace and stressful psychosocial working conditions.4

    There are a number of reasons why public health researchers should be concerned about the growth of non-standard employment relationships.5 Workers in flexible jobs share many labour market characteristics (eg, lower credentials, low income, women, immigrant and non-white) with the unemployed, while themselves experiencing bouts of unemployment, a factor strongly associated with adverse health outcomes.6,7 In addition, evidence suggests that these …