Globalization did not give birth to flexible forms of work but it contributes to their development through the international network enterprise, which was created by globalization.
The network enterprise is a unit of business operations made up of different companies or segments of companies, as well as of consultants and temporary workers attached to specific projects. Large companies rely on vast networks of suppliers, whose quality and responsibility are critical for the success of the larger company. In some cases, such as in Japan or the Republic of Korea, suppliers are generally loyal to one company. In other cases, such as in the United States, Western Europe, “Taiwan, China”, China or Hong Kong, suppliers have alternative connections to different clients. The complexity of the new business system does not stop there. Large companies, particularly multinational companies, constantly set up “strategic alliances” – that is, agreements with other companies, sometimes competitors, in specific processes or product lines. These strategic alliances are limited in space (they may be country-specific), time (they are valid for a certain period only), and purpose (they may for example cover technology, but not markets – or vice versa). Since every major company uses this strategy, and all constantly change their purpose, the actual behaviour of companies is organized around a network of variable geometry.
The development of the network enterprise favours a diversity of contractual arrangements between capital and labour. The number of full time, career-seeking, long-term salaried employees is decreasing, and the system is evolving towards a very diverse pool of workers that become part-timers, on-call workers, temporary workers, self-employed, or high-turnover workers. In the information age, a fundamental new trend in labour relations seems to be the individualization of labour conditions and labour contracts, reversing the trend towards the socialization of labour that characterized the industrial society.
Flexible Forms of work and international instruments for workers’ rights
There are quite many international instrument for regulating the use of atypical forms of work (See, ILO Conventions on Home Work, Part-Time Work and Private Employment Agencies and European Framework Agreement on Part-Time Work concluded between UNICE, ETUC and CEEP)
However, none of these instruments – nor any international instruments on working time – cover the self-employed. The EU’s Working Time Directive also excludes self-employed workers. Actually, the entire concept of the self-employed worker remains ambiguous, and one of the reasons for the popularity of self-employment is that by hiring self-employed workers, employers are exempted from most provisions of labour legislation, especially in the field of working time legislation.
Like unemployment, flexible forms of work pose a challenge to social security arrangements. Flexible forms of work lack continuity. Spans of work and unemployment alternate, as do weekly working hours. Defining the periods during which flex-workers are entitled to various benefits (e.g. to unemployment benefits), is becoming more difficult as the forms or work continue to multiply and definitions of various forms of work become blurred. Home workers resemble the self-employed, the self-employed resemble on-call workers, employees resemble entrepreneurs, etc.