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British Labour Market

Thelabour market has changed considerably in recent years as a result of a move away from full-time to part-time employment, the growing proportion of women inthe workforce and higher self-employment. Nearly three-quarters of employees now work in the service sector, compared with around one-fifth in manufacturing.

“Teleworking” – people working from home using information technology – is becoming more widespread, especially in journalism, consultancy and computer programming. A number of steps have been taken by the government to increase the flexibility of the labour market, for example, encouraging the adoption of flexible working patterns for more employees.

As in other industrialized countries, in Great Britain there has been a marked shift in jobsfrom manufacturing to service industries. In recent years the proportion of employees engaged in service industries has more that doubled and reached nearly 80 per cent. Business activities, education, medical services, distribution, and hotels and catering have experienced significant increases while most other sectors – manufacturing, construction, agriculture and mining, energy and water supply – have experienced lower levels of employment. Traditional manufacturing industries, such as steel and shipbuilding, have recorded particularly large falls in employment.

There has been a gradual move away from manual occupations towards non-manual occupations, which now account for nearly three-fifths of jobs in Great Britain.

Thecomposition of labour force has changed and consists of a higher percentage of minorities and women than before. Employers are adapting to this workforce diversity in several ways. Some sponsor education and training programs for potential recruits. Many, in an attempt to attract and accommodate workers, provide on-side childcare, and flexible working hours.

As the work force has changed, so have some labour-management issues. Many workers are fighting for the right to take unpaid leave when they have babies or when a family member is ill and needs extensive care. Employers want the right to test workers for drug use. Many agreements between employers and wage earners have generous fringe benefits, which include insurance and pensions.

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Where Have All the Young Men Gone?

The biggest challenge for working women in the next decade will be to reach pay and status parity with men; the problem for men will be to stayin employment. About 60 per cent of British women in their fifties were working in 2000, according to the general Household Survey. The equivalent figure for men has fallen from 93 to 72 per cent.

“The problem isn’t that women are entering the labour market, it is that many men are not able to get into the market,” says Nick Isles of the Employment Policy Institute. “Policy has got to concentrate on dealing with the male, unskilled unemployed. Otherwise there could be a rise in petty crime, a rise perhaps in numbers of single-parent mothers as women stop seeing men as useful lifetime partners. Formal qualifications, communication skills and flexibility will be critical. The continuing shift away from manufacturing will mean that the workplace of the next millennium will be an unfriendly environment for the uneducated.”

The growth in service industries, and particularly an emphasis on customer service, is encouraging the employment of women. Several industries are now heavily skewed in favour of women – banking and telemarketing, for example, where they make up at least two-thirds of employees. “Women tend to have the sort of skills that are useful in the services sector – empathy and communication skills,” says Isles.

The growth in part-time jobs and self-employment suggests that workers need to become more flexible. Women are becoming more versatile at a faster rate than men. In 1986, there were 790,000 people (split equally) who had two part-time jobs at the same time. Since then the proportion of women has crept up. In 1996, according to Labour Force Survey figures, about 742,000 women held two jobs – a third more than the figure of 543,000 for men.

The research organization Mintel predicts an increase in demand in the new personal services field – health, education, leisure and tourism. Major areas of growth in this sector are care of the infirm or elderly and one-to-one tuition such as fitness coaching. On the other hand, jobs will continue to be lost because of automation.

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Men Challenge for Right to Do “Women’s Work”

Chris Sauto used to work on a building site. Now he is a sales assistant in a women’s clothes shop. After decades in which women have fought to get traditional “male” jobs, men are reversing the roles.

“I worked as a carpenter’s assistant but the work was hard to come by and it was very insecure”, said Sauto, who works in the Chelsea branch of French Connection. Like increasing numbers of men, he turned to so-called women’s work where there are now increasing opportunities.

But along with the new roles for male employees has come sex discrimination. British men have made record numbers of complaints of bias in their efforts to secure part-time and low-paid jobs as secretaries, sales assistants and child carers.

Statistics to be published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will show a significant rise in complaints from men over the hiring policies of companies. More than 40 per cent are now lodged by men trying to win jobs traditionally held by women.

It is a trend that the commission says is only partly explained by recession and a shift in the labour market from male-dominated manufacturing to the service sector. A significant number of 1,200 complaints last year were from men in their 50s who had been out of work for months or years.

When Loui Gizzi, 46, was made redundant from the merchant navy he joined an employment training scheme to improve his chances of getting clerical work. But after nearly a year of training, he was turned down for a post in the office where he had trained. In 1991, backed by the EOC, he claimed at an industrial tribunal that he had been discriminated against. “There’s no reason why clerical work should be regarded as women’s work. But I think executives like to be surrounded by attractive young girls,” Gizzi, who is still unemployed, said.

According to the EOC’s figures, there was also a minority of younger men who wanted part-time, temporary jobs to fit in with their desire to share their children’s upbringing.

Alan Hubner is typical of men prepared to take action over alleged discrimination. A former bus driver, he applied for a 90-a-week job at a model factory but claimed he was turned down when he asked to take advantage of a subsidised child-minding scheme. His wife’s job as a nursery officer made her the family’s main wage earner, while he looked after their two children at home.

The industrial tribunal ruled in his favour. “When industries are closing down, there’re not many full-time jobs to go for,” Hubner said. “You have a choice of going for a low-paid job, part-time work or staying at home and looking after the children.”

Employment experts believe the state of the labour market will reinforce the trend.

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