The Empowered and the Powerless: How Polish Youth Experience Their Precarious Careers

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:06
Oral Presentation
Anna KIERSZTYN, University of Warsaw, Poland
In the past decades, the precarization of work has become a subject of concern among scholars and policymakers, due to the growth in the incidence of non-standard employment arrangements, such as fixed-term jobs, temporary agency employment or free-lance work. The young are among the ones most affected by these processes: their access to well-protected insider jobs is often limited, and many of them now face the prospects of unpredictable careers consisting of recurrent spells of short-term employment. However, the link between 'objective' job precarity and subjective perceptions is far from obvious – unstable employment may be defined and experienced in differing ways, depending on individual characteristics, family situation or workplace relations. For some, precarious jobs may be associated with independence and regarded as an opportunity for professional development, while for others, they bring about a sense of vulnerability and entrapment.

I identify three mechanisms which may shape these perceptions among young precarious workers. The first assumes that their bargaining power, determined by the level and specificity of skills required to perform their jobs and the ease of performance monitoring, is the main factor affecting perceptions of security. The second associates such perceptions with precarious workers' access to various coping resources, such as a sense of self-efficacy brought about by individualization, or economic and social support. Such resources, by minimizing the negative psychological and economic impact of possible job loss on workers, allow them to maintain a positive view of their careers. The third focuses on perceptions of (in)justice: viewing their employment relations as 'fair' and 'reasonable' is likely to decrease precarious workers' perceptions of insecurity. In this paper, I analyse these mechanisms on the basis of qualitative data from in-depth interviews with young precarious workers in Poland, and discuss their implications.