‘Kałboj' or ‘Sanitary Management Assistant'? Precarious Work at the Bottom of the Occupational Ladder

Friday, July 18, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Stef ADRIAENSSENS , Faculty of Economics and Business, KU Leuven, Brussels, Belgium
Some see an increasing polarization between attractive jobs and jobs at the bottom in Western labour markets. Indeed, there is evidence that jobs that fall between the two extremes, have become less important in recent decades. Some juxtapose interesting jobs with a corresponding salary, job security, prestige, career opportunities and attractive working conditions against precarious jobs where people are expected to work in flexible work schedules with little chance to develop skills, all that in return for a low salary. Some denote these bad jobs as 'precarious'.

What is missing in this literature, is a reliable job level empirical approach of the growing numbers of workers in the precariat. This contribution reports of a research into an previously neglected occupation: lavatory attendants. Their job is likely to exist of low paid and flexible work with limited social protection, low employability and non-existing prospects of a career. There is a stark parallel between the lack of social-scientific interest and the apparent social unease about this job. For instance, the Polish  ‘kałboj’ contaminates the Polish word for a lavatory attendant with phonetics for excrements (‘kał’). Other terms cloak the job in vague terms (the ‘sanitary management assistant’).

With the help of standardized questionnaires and in-depth interviews taken from a sample of these workers in Belgian cities, we document the score of lavatory attendants on precarity, job status, access to collective bargaining and social benefits, income, skill utilization and job strains. Also, because agency and self-assessment is so important to understand processes of polarization and precarization, toilet attendants are asked what they see as the main problems of their jobs and status. The results of this survey allow us to partially evaluate the effects of the Belgian flexicurity policy, aiming to provide workers with social security while allowing for flexible labour market policy.