Let’s talk about time and work in pandemics

23, July

By Martin Padulla for staffingamericalatina The relationship between time and work has been widely discussed for ...

By Martin Padulla for staffingamericalatina

The relationship between time and work has been widely discussed for many years. Two centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution, in addition to the disruption of steam, brought us the clock and this forever changed the way we produce and live.
Time, in the context of a pandemic, is a concept that acquires an important depth and challenges us. The physical reality of time is constant while the individual reality reconstructs the concept of time. For the second consecutive year, COVID 19 threatens our vital time and invites us to reflect on it, among other aspects, in its relationship with work.
Some believe that the pandemic has irreversibly weakened the tyranny of the clock. However, flexible work and the freedom that comes with its concept existed even before we experienced the most global phenomenon in history.
The Slack platform conducted a survey in which only 12% of the participating workers who had an eight-hour face-to-face job wished to return to the pre-pandemic work schedule.

Clearly, it is necessary to rethink all work relationships, reconciling time with work and personal life. These pandemic revisions hold an opportunity: all estimates indicate that those markets that are more dynamic, modern, flexible and inclusive could reach pre- pandemic levels by the end of this year; while in general terms, our region, which is far from having such labor systems, will take years to achieve it.
During this period, changes in business models, consumption patterns and work dynamics became visible; this requires urgent adaptations. Clinging to conceptions of work that do not reflect reality has so far only served to increase informality and unemployment in our region.

It is also true that semantics have not helped much in this modernization of the way we look at work. Atypical employment is any configuration within the so-called diverse forms of work that differ from standard employment. Standard employment based on indefinite-term contracts is not what most of the inhabitants of this planet have. What a confusion or perhaps a transparent way of seeing how obsolete the hegemonic view is, or in some cases, is there an intention to think of the indefinite contract as infinite and to associate different forms of work with precariousness?

The various forms of work have experienced sustained growth. Demographic changes, rigid and outdated regulatory frameworks, macroeconomic fluctuations and technological changes explained this many years ago. The digital revolution and the pandemic only accelerated and widened this gap between “pre-wired” work systems and reality.
The consequences imply many challenges that require a set of parallel actions to address them: digital divide, chronification of unemployment, deficit of skills demanded by the market, high levels of informality or absence of decent work, among others.

The good news in analyzing the status quo is that we have efficient tools at our fingertips. And a way to address myths, deactivate them and operate in a sustainable future agenda. It is necessary to be based on casuistry, on hard data that allows us to start from evidence.

There is consensus that we need to create an inclusive system that encourages training and retraining of candidates and workers. This imperative need has been exacerbated by the confinements and the absence of face-to-face classes in a deteriorating educational system. The case of private employment agencies is paradigmatic; they play a substantial role in demand-driven skills training and easy access to the formal labor market based on a very interesting relationship with time to reconcile work and personal life.

When we look at the phenomenon of temporality, the scenario is clear: there are three visible forms of temporality:

  • a decent temporality, reinforced, covered by the relationship with experts who give it a permanent discontinuous character with a focus on the stability that is achieved from employability. This is the temporary nature managed by private employment agencies.
  • A temporary nature, which Andreu Cruañas, President of ASEMPLEO in Spain, calls wild, which is loose in nature, without guidance or containment, without the guidance of experts so that the candidate does not fail and can develop.
  • and a temporary nature that I call wild, without any employment contract, without social security benefits, in a total framework of precariousness and informality.

In these differentiations we can see the importance of flexicurity schemes to ensure formality and employability. And we can also see that stability is given by the possibility of providing value in the labor market and not false promises based on a world that no longer exists.

Digital job platforms are characterized by their high degree of misnamed atypical work. They offer a menu of options that increase freedom of choice and can be a form of work organization. People today develop their lives through temporary, part-time, agency work, multi-party work relationships; in some formats more mature and developed with formal and flexible labor relations and in other formats with clear decent work deficits.
To this true metamorphosis of work we must add the consolidation of remote work, forcing organizations to think about hybrid schemes. This implies a profound change in management and a more people-centered conception than ever before. The challenge of getting closer without being close, of managing people and uncertainty without permanent presence.

The various forms of work have allowed more people to enter the labor market. They are just an emergent of a phenomenon that in historical terms is not new. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, like the one that brought the clock to the world of work, has allowed more people to develop but through a different format and by bringing into play different competencies than those predominant in the previous period.
Volatile labor markets and difficulties in creating jobs in the region require a system that contains training oriented to the needs of organizations and a good intermediation network that offers flexibility and security. There are many good practices available that would allow a much faster recovery, with less pain.

In different forums, different voices agree that it is time to create decent work through digital platforms.
Among the so-called diverse forms of work, there is one with a very important path already traveled, that of the aforementioned private employment agencies. ILO Convention 181 on private employment agencies establishes that they include all “services intended to link offers and demands for employment” and guarantee rights, equal opportunities, social security and training.

A short time ago, Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labor Organization, stated that “…regardless of their contractual status, all workers must be able to exercise their fundamental labor rights”.
Sustainability depends on the possibility of preserving the most strategic renewable resource we have, which is knowledge, and rethinking the organizing myth of our society, which is work. Only in this way will we be able to aspire to a faster recovery and true sustainable development.

There are so many appeals to time in this column that irremediably ends… Surely in September, we will explore these issues in depth. Be sure to attend the World Employment Conference.

To register www.worldemploymentconference.org

About Martin Padulla

Founder and Managing Director of staffingamericalatina. Martin Padulla is Sociologist (USAL), MBA (UCA) and labour markets expert. He published “Flexible Work in South America” and “Regulatory framework for private employment agencies in Latin America” two books about the new realities of work in Latin America. He is working on the project #FOWiberoamerica.

Follow Martín Padulla on Twitter: @MartinPadulla