http://www.economist.com/node/16595334?story_id=16595334 Archives - St. Stephen's University

The rise of the temp agency and the fall of the lower class

By | 2010, Asia, Europe | No Comments

I read in last month’s edition of the Economist that the European progress toward creating better conditions for workers has recently been brought into question. This doubt which the author wrote about has to do with the sovereign debt crisis and other deficit problems underway in Europe. The sovereign debt crisis unfolded in Greece where the country neared bankruptcy earlier this summer. A different debt issue in France is also to blame for their pension reforms which, in a reversal of historical trends, forced the raising of the retirement age. The progress toward better working conditions which the magazine refers to is the mandatory five weeks of paid vacation, the mandatory thirty-five hour work week, and a retirement age of sixty, all of which are associated with lenient European labour policies. The magazine said that the recent crisis in Greece and the reform in France are both sharp wake-up calls for their dream of progress. He further states that this “progress” in labour is an illusion and that these lenient policies are in fact suffocating industry and innovation in European business. It appears that his overall conclusion is that wherever such “progress” exists, economies will always run towards an unsustainable point.
The author of that article certainly may have been expressing an underlying ideological bias against socialism or forms of it. I do see his point, however, that lenient policy towards workers can be stretched too far with predictable negative consequences. I cannot accept all his rhetoric against worker’s rights/benefits though. Perhaps this has to do with my witnessing of an issue related to this discussion in North American business which I think is morally unacceptable.
This issue I refer to involves companies all across industrial heartlands of this continent using temporary agencies to reduce their labour costs and improve their flexibility. The people who are the subjects of these cost-cutting methods are usually immigrants, the working poor, high school drop-outs, addicts, alcoholics, and other lower class individuals for whom there is no other suitable option for full-time employment. When I see these people working minimum wage for years (literally) and never getting “hired-on” with the company, and having a third of their potential wage garnished by some idle temp agency somewhere, it infuriates me. There has to be solutions that incorporate what Europe has sought in worker’s rights and benefits, albeit founded on conditions which make current business ventures viable and new business attractive.