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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

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Dependent Self-Employment

Theory, Practice and Policy

Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

Dependent self-employment is widely perceived as a rapidly growing form of precarious work conducted by marginalised lower-skilled workers subcontracted by large corporations. Unpacking a comprehensive survey of 35 European countries, Colin C. Williams and Ioana Alexandra Horodnic map the lived realities of the distribution and characteristics of dependent self-employment to challenge this broad and erroneous perception.
This content is available to you

Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

This content is available to you

Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

The first section of this chapter sets the scene by defining what is meant by dependent self-employment, and briefly reviews what have been sometimes very confusing discussions for a lay reader regarding how to define employment relationships existing in this ‘grey zone’ between pure dependent employment and genuine self-employment. Having defined what is being discussed in the book, this introductory chapter then sets out the arguments of the book by reviewing its structure and what will be argued. Part I of the book reviews the theoretical underpinnings of dependent self-employment; Part II provides an extensive cross-national analysis of the extent, distribution and characteristics of dependent self-employment, including the job quality and working conditions of workers in this employment relationship; and Part III advances policy by addressing the range of policy approaches and measures available for tackling this phenomenon.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

Firstly, this chapter reviews overall employment participation rates in 35 European countries to show the size of the ‘jobs gap’ between current employment rates and full employment. Secondly, it is revealed that there are also problems with the type and quality of employment being created, exemplified by the emergence of new forms of non-standard employment and the growth of the ‘working poor’, meaning that not all are equally ‘socially included’ through their insertion into employment. Thirdly, the chapter addresses the issue of self-employment. To do this, the extent and growth of self-employment is reviewed, revealing that although there are considerable variations across countries, there is a growth in the proportion of total self-employment that is self-employment without employees and part-time self-employment, often taken up on an involuntary basis. It is also revealed that the population groups who are engaging in self-employment are not those conventionally associated with the self-employed.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

To review what is known about dependent self-employment, this chapter analyses the small but growing literature on the grey zone of employment that lies between genuine self-employment and pure dependent employment, and outlines the dominant theorization of dependent self-employment as a rapidly growing form of precarious work conducted by marginalized lower-skilled workers and resulting from outsourcing and subcontracting by large corporations closely affiliated with the advent of online platforms and mobile applications. In this chapter, each component of this dominant theorization is reviewed by examining both the widespread existence of each assumption and the current evidence available to support it. This reveals that the evidence to support these strong narratives about dependent self-employment is often very weak and far from conclusive.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

Reporting the European Working Conditions Survey conducted in 2010 and 2015, this chapter investigates the prevalence and the trends in dependent self-employment amongst 35 European countries, and possible explanations for the cross-country variations in the share of dependent self-employment. This reveals mixed results. When analysing the European member states only, the share of the dependent self-employed is lower in 2015 compared with 2010. When a larger sample of European countries is analysed, the results show a negligible increase in dependent self-employment when the whole economy is analysed, and a negligible decrease when the agricultural sector is excluded. This chapter also investigates two competing perspectives for explaining the marked cross-country variations in the share of dependent self-employment. The finding is that the neo-liberal countries with lower levels of state interference in work and welfare display higher levels of dependent self-employment than countries which intervene more actively in work and welfare.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

This chapter evaluates the dominant narratives regarding dependent self-employment, namely that dependent self-employment is a precarious form of work that is conducted by marginalized groups of workers, and that this employment relationship is concentrated in the platform economy. Using the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey, the results reveals that the marginalization thesis holds only for some groups (for example, those with financial difficulties and those with fewer years in education), but not for others such as women or young people. Similarly, dependent self-employment is prevalent in skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery work, and therefore not low-skilled work; nor is it easy to link dependent self-employment purely with platform work. Indeed, there are other sectors where platform work is more prevalent (for example, transport, delivery) than is the case in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

Analysing the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey, this chapter evaluates the dominant narrative about dependent self-employment that the working conditions of those engaged in dependent self-employment are worse than for other types of employment. The finding is that the dependent self-employed do not always have significantly worse working conditions than the rest of the population in employment. Although some aspects of their working conditions are worse (physical environment, duration of work, atypical working times, social support from colleagues, cognitive dimension of work, training, career prospects and company downsizing), this is not the case across all aspects of their working conditions. To assert, therefore, that the dependent self-employed have worse working conditions than the rest of the employed population is a simplification.

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Colin C. Williams and Ioana A. Horodnic

This chapter reviews the approaches used until now to address the misclassification of employment in different countries. This reveals how some countries maintain the binary divide between employment and self-employment, and that the approach towards the grey zone between genuine self-employment and dependent employment has variously included: (1) presumptions that these are dependent employees and fall within the scope of employment protection legislation; (2) reversal of the burden of proving employee status; and (3) listing criteria that enable the classification of workers as either employees or self-employed. Meanwhile, it is revealed that other countries have sought to introduce a new hybrid legal category of employment relationship that provides workers in this grey zone with legal rights that would not exist under the legal status of self-employment. The collective responses towards dependent self-employment and the recent proposal of the International Labour Organization for a common definition of the dependent self-employment are also discussed.