Low paid, low skilled ‘precariat workers’ do not band together, study

Low paid, low skilled ‘precariat workers’ of the world do not band together, a study has shown. ‘Precariat’ refers to people whose jobs and income are insecure (we commonly consider it as a class). The word ‘precariat,’ which emerged in the 1990s, is a blend of precarious and proletariat. Low-paid workers aren’t prone to form a common bond, say researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

Constantine Manolchev, Richard Saundry, and Duncan Lewis wrote about their study in the journal Economic and Industrial Democracy (citation below).

Dr. Manolchev is a Lecturer in Sustainable Futures at the University of Exeter’s Business School. Dr. Saundry
is a Professor in HRM & Employment Relations at Plymouth Business School (HRM = Human Resources Management). Professor Lewis is the Chair in Management at Plymouth Business School.

The notion that the precariat is united by working contexts is probably a myth. The belief that they rally against their employers does not necessarily hold true, say the authors.

The Macmillan Dictionary has the following definition of precariat: “A social group consisting of people whose lives are difficult because they have little or no job security and few employment rights.”

Things said about precariat workers overstated

The study showed that the idea of a unified precariat appears to be overstated. Workers do not necessarily band together with their peers to express dissatisfaction in the workplace.

Dr. Manolchev, who was study leader, said:

“The idea of the existence of a formed and unified ‘precariat’ is increasingly taken for granted. Our research suggests that this tends to be overstated.”

“We need to also take into account personal life histories and working trajectories, individual experiences and aspirations; so their relationship with their boss, their own sense of pride in their job and their personal circumstances all play a part.”

“What we’ve identified is that just because a worker is a part of that particular social group and has negative attitudes towards the workplace doesn’t mean that they are necessarily united with their peers. We believe more research needs to be carried out in this area.”

Precariat workers – three categories

According to the authors, precariat workers typically fall into three main groups:

– Workers who no longer have access to meaningful or secure employment.

– Ethnic minority workers and migrants who are no longer in their home countries.

– Members of the group who have a high academic level. However, they do not have access to a career path.

They also differ from one another regarding their social status and meaningful social relationships. They also differ in terms of their working relationships with their bosses.

For example, migrant workers typically recognize that they are in low-paid UK jobs. However, their weekly wage is still triple or four times what they would earn at home. This gives them a different perspective compared to other colleagues in similar roles.

The authors carried out 77 in-depth interviews with farm workers, cleaners, and care workers. They all worked in the South-West of England. The researchers also gathered and analyzed research data that already existed in this arena.

No precariat workers’ collective detected

They found common characteristics within the group. However, the researchers couldn’t find evidence of a clear collective. There was no evidence of a ‘class’ that showed interest in far-right messaging. Neither was there evidence of a class “engaging in populist politics for its own agenda.”

Many precariat workers work in what we call the ‘gig economy.’ Freelancers, part-timers, and short-term contract workers work in the gig economy. They have no job security. Many of them receive the minimum wage.


“Breaking up the ‘precariat’: Personalisation, differentiation and deindividuation in precarious work groups,” Duncan Lewis, Richard Saundy, and Constantine Manolchev. Economic and Industrial Democracy (2018). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0143831X18814625.