Ce travail vise à comprendre comment des intérimaires subissant ce statut y font face. Il apparaît que confrontés à une situation vécue comme stigmatisante, ces salariés réagissent de façon différente selon les raisons qui les ont conduits vers le travail temporaire, selon les ressources qu’ils parviennent à mobiliser pour définir et poursuivre différents objectifs et, en partie au moins, selon la durée de leur passage dans cette forme d’emploi. Trois réponses émergent : la résignation, la résilience et l’adaptation. Loin des schémas explicatifs unidimensionnels valorisant un précaire contraint ou acteur de son développement de carrière, cette recherche suggère une réaction au travail contingent subi qui questionne les différents modèles de coping, c’est-à-dire de stratégies adaptatives.
Three Answers to Imposed Precariousness
The Case of Low-skilled Contingent Workers
Insecure and discontinued work has spread significantly in France and in other developed industrialized countries over the last thirty years. A significant number of employees are experiencing precarious employment, for lack of finding a secure job which remains a strong social norm in France. This situation of imposed insecurity is to be found in particular in temporary employment and concerns two million employees in France, predominantly low-skilled or unskilled young people.
Many studies tend to show that low-skilled contingent workers accept their situation very passively, having no real means to do anything about it, waiting for the situation to improve. On the other hand, in contrast, one can find the description of self-willed, better skilled, mobile workers who implement strategies including chosen mobility to develop their employability, helped by their independence and their ability to diversify their competencies. In spite of the relevance of this dichotomy that enables us to characterize two typical situations, it has a downside which is to assume that involuntary contingent workers have almost no room at all for maneuver.
We have tried to understand to what extent low-skilled, involuntary contingent workers get organized to make do with and face up to their difficulties. We then tried to distinguish how they reacted, the strategies and the tactics they adopted to put up with their situation, and if need be, how they tried hard to turn it around to their benefit.
We carried out a field survey in the Paris area among 16 temporary work agencies belonging to three large temporary work companies and an SME in the sector to collect data that would enable us to know more about the subject. Resorting to semi-directive interviews, in situ observations, and questionnaires put to temporary workers as well as to the permanent employees of the agencies that employed them, we identified three types of response to the constraint on the part of low-skilled workers.
The first type of response was adjustment, and corresponded to constructive acceptance of the situation the worker was confronted with, by trying to optimize the conditions in which it was experienced; the objective was to force the constraint to find a way out. The worker displayed conspicuous good will, as well as permanent cooperation with the agency during his assignment to serve this adjustment, aimed at showing that he was a good and reliable contingent worker even if his main objective was to become a good stable employee.
The second type of response was resilience and consisted in doing everything in order not to give up in the face of difficulties, acting with a view to attempting to access stable employment which was the permanent hope. The worker tried to respond to the constraint so as to create an opportunity for development. This posture often involved a twofold refusal of being victimized as a contingent worker on the one hand, and being trapped in this status on the other. This translated into asserting the reasons for and objectives of resorting to temporary work presented as a moment in one’s career that was accepted if not really chosen, and during which the worker refused to be the victim of circumstances. This positive re-interpretation led to the adoption of active individual tactics.
The third type of response was resignation and defined the position of those who felt unable to react to the constraint imposed on them and which generated a lot of suffering. The wide gap between the stable employment they aspired to and the durable job insecurity they suffered put these workers in front of a gap between expectations that could only be coped with by being on the defensive. This frequently led, often after many years, to a passive approach similar to a descent into despair.
In quite a few cases, we noticed a scenario in which the three attitudes appeared successively: adjustment, which often characterized the first phase, was followed by a phase of resilience during which the worker tried to get organized so as to hold out without suffering too much, followed by resignation when the time spent in contingent work lasted and generated the feeling that one was trapped within precariousness, from which one increasingly felt unable to escape. However, this succession did not take place systematically in this order; neither did it affect all the career paths of the contingent workers studied.
Available professional capital (experiences, acquired experience) and social capital (support, know-how) as well as socio-demographic (age, ethnic origin) and family (parents, spouses able or not to provide emotional and material support) characteristics were elements that were often correlated with the level of reactivity and, in particular, the ability to avoid falling into depression. There again, however, it was difficult to establish very recurrent causality links
On the other hand, however, it appeared possible to assert that the duration of contingent work suffered and the fact of being stuck in a position which one hoped would be temporary gradually atrophied the ability of many actors to act with a minimum of room for maneuver and often reduced them to being less efficient agents before sometimes turning them into agents in search of collective reasons that accounted for their situation and their helplessness in escaping from it.
Tres respuestas a la precariedad
El caso de los trabajadores temporales poco calificados
Este trabajo se propone comprender cómo los trabajadores temporales bajo este estatuto hacen frente a la situación. Confrontados a una situación vivida como estigmatizante, estos trabajadores reaccionan de manera diferente según las razones que les han conducido hacia el trabajo temporario, según los recursos que logran movilizar para definir y conseguir diferentes objetivos y, al menos en parte, según la duración de su pasaje en este tipo de empleo. Tres respuestas emergen: la resignación, la resilianza y la adaptación. Lejos de los esquemas explicativos unidimensionales que valorizan un trabajador precario obligado o actor del desarrollo de su carrera, esta investigación sugiere una reacción al trabajo eventual no deseado que cuestiona los diferentes modelos de “coping”, es decir de estrategias adaptativas.