Dualism, flexibility and self-employment in the UK construction industry

  • Peter Nisbet

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Does flexibility in employment relations necessarily mean a polarisation into desirable and undesirable jobs? The rise in the number of self-employed workers in the UK has been paralleled by increasing concern that the use of such 'peripheral' labour may result in the operation of a dual labour market acting to reinforce segregation between 'good' core employment, characterised by higher pay, fringe benefits and job security, and 'bad' peripheral employment with adverse characteristics. In contrast, using evidence gained from a survey of workers in the UK construction industry, this dissertation shows that, for any occupation/level of skill, there are discrete advantages and disadvantages in both direct and self-employment. It is, therefore, argued that worker preference for a particular mode of employment and the ability to realise such a preference are the key criteria which determine the case for either relative advantage or disadvantage. In particular, the evidence shows that the large majorities of both direct and self-employed workers who prefer their existing mode of employment undermines dualist conclusions of relative disadvantage arising from self-employment per se. Moreover, evidence shows that recurring social relations between the self-employed and their sources of earnings serve to influence significantly the allocation of labour in the construction industry and thus constrain the degree of 'insecurity' commonly associated with a peripheral labour force with transferable skills. In addition, the survey demonstrates that the independence of self-employment offers such workers the potential not only to influence actively their likelihood of obtaining work, but also to alternate between different types of earnings sources to further protect security of both work and levels of earnings.

Date of Award1995
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

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