Precarious work and young people

Young people in Portugal occupy a particularly insecure position on the labour market. A study of young people aged between 18 and 34 in low-skilled and poorly-paid jobs shows that they are often employed on precarious contracts, are poorly paid, and have difficulties finding a stable job. Many reported that while they were keen to get a full-time job, part-time work was all they could find. Some young people reported having more than one job, and others were in bogus self-employment.

About the study

A new report, Young people in precarious transitions: Work, everyday life and future examines the problems young people face when they move into the labour market in Portugal. One of its chapters, ‘Occupational structure, labour relations and precariousness’, analyses the difficulties experienced by young people even when they find employment.

Qualitative methodology was used for the study, based on 80 semi-structured interviews in four municipalities of Portugal. The research focuses on young people aged between 18 and 34 who work in low-skilled and poorly-paid jobs. The interviews were carried out between May and August 2010.

The range of jobs carried out by the study’s sample of low-skilled workers were assessed in relation to the Portuguese Classification of Occupations. The category of ‘professionals’ was hardly represented, with only two respondents doing jobs that fell into this category. There were no respondents from the following categories: technicians and associated professionals, clerks and skilled agricultural and fishery workers.

The majority of respondents were from the category of service workers and shop and market sales workers – and the categories craft and related trades workers, plant and machine operators/assemblers and elementary occupations.

People with gross wages equal to or lower than €700 were considered to be low-paid workers.

Key findings

Contractual arrangements

Many of the respondents were working under what were considered to be ‘precarious’ contracts. At the time of the study, 34 had a fixed-term contract, while 15 had self-employed status but were in practice dependent workers, the so-called ‘recibo verde’ ( ‘green receipt’). Two workers questioned did not have a contract at all or a contract of indefinite duration. Twenty-nine of the interviewees had an open-ended contract.

Table 1 shows that the majority of open-ended or fixed-term contracts are held by blue-collar workers. A number of respondents with a medium level of education (ISCED 2 and 3) and a low level of education (ISCED 2) also had open-ended or fixed-term contracts. Respondents with a high educational level (ISCED 5A) were most likely to class themselves as self-employed, and to have a recibo verde contract to provide services.

According to the authors, this distribution of contracts is clearly not just related to the economic sectors. It relates to the nature of the work and the corresponding salary.

The blue-collar workers surveyed and those with a mid-level education were most likely to work in the most regulated sectors of the economy. These sectors include industrial and commercial businesses, which are less likely to employ workers informally.

Many young people from the sample with a higher educational level worked in the social solidarity institutions (Instituições Particulares de Solidariedade Social). They also worked in small companies in the services sector, providing services to other companies. These young people were more likely to be employed on a precarious type of contract – as a service provider – usually indicative of bogus self-employment.

Table 1: Type of contract by professional and educational level
 

People with a high educational level1

People with a medium educational level2

People with a low educational level3

Blue-collar workers4

Total

Open-ended contract

1

7

5

16

29

Fixed-term contract

6

15

3

10

34

Service provision (Self-employed)

8

3

3

1

15

Informal working

0

1

0

1

2

Total

15

26

11

28

80

Note:

1 employees with a high education level – completed or on-going;

2 employees educated to secondary level – completed or on-going;

3 employees with an education level lower than basic education;

4 plant and machine operators and assemblers, regardless of education level.

Source: Alves.2011.Table 2.5.

Involuntary part-time work was another form of contractual precariousness experienced by 12 interviewees. These people were available for and wanted to work full time. In other cases, interviewees were employed in sectors which typically used seasonal workers, such as the construction industry. The role of these workers had similar characteristics to the work of small contractors or pieceworkers.

The study found that for a significant number of respondents, the correlation between low pay and jobs requiring few skills, combined with precarious forms of work such as involuntary part time work, led to the need to do more than one job. Fifteen of the young people interviewed said they had more than one job.

Pay rates

As a result of taking low-skilled jobs, the majority of the young respondents received correspondingly low pay: 29 of the interviewees earned €475 a month – the minimum wage in Portugal in 2010 – or less; 32 respondents earned between the minimum wage and €625; 19 earned between €626 and €700.

Table 2 shows that the group of young workers with a high educational level had a more unbalanced distribution in the wage scale. This group is more concentrated in the middle of the wage scale. In this group, highly precarious contractual arrangements and the (voluntary) part-time nature of the work done by the respondents are more significant factors in determining pay than occupational integration. These combine to squeeze wages to very low levels.

The proportion of workers earning the minimum wage or less (€475 a month) is significantly higher among respondents with a low educational level and blue-collar workers than in the other groups.

Table 2: Wage scale, by professional and educational level
 

Professional and educational situation

  People with a high educational level People with a medium educational level People with a low educational level Blue-collar workers Total
Less than €475

4

8

6

11

29

€476 to €625

7

9

3

13

32

€626 to €700

4

9

2

4

19

Total

15

26

11

28

80

Source: Alves.2011.Table 2.6.

An analysis by sex indicates a higher proportion of men in the higher wage levels, even though women in general reported better qualifications and higher levels of occupational skills and experience.

Commentary

This study shows that low wages are the result of a diverse combination of constraints that include educational qualification, occupational framework and contractual arrangements.

Where average educational level is low, this often means young people must accept work in lower skilled and lower paid categories, although there were some exceptions. However, the study also showed that more highly skilled jobs often offered less favourable employment conditions and contracts.

This diversity of constraints leads to different forms of precariousness. These are based on:

  • inadequate integration in the occupational structure (e.g. overqualification for the job);
  • gap between job opportunities and qualifications;
  • precarious contractual arrangements;
  • poor standard of living due to low wages.

Reference

Alves, N., Cantante, F., Baptista, I., do Carmo, R. (2011), ‘Estrutura Ocupacional, relações laborais e precariedade’ [Occupational structure, labour relations and precariousness], in Jovens em transições precárias: trabalho, quotidiano e futuro [Young people in precarious transitions: Work, everyday life and future], Editora Mundos Sociais, Lisbon, pp. 31–48.

Heloísa Perista and Paula Carrilho, CESIS

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