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This concluding chapter reviews the key analytical threads and arguments of the book, returning to the concept of ‘double activation’ and tracing the interconnections (conceptually and at the level of street-level practice) between the quasi-market governance of employment services and workfarist activation. It reviews the key dynamics by which quasi-marketisation intensifies a street-level orientation towards enacting a more demanding, workfare-oriented activation model: through how it reconfigures the profile of organisations and people working at the frontline of service delivery (politics of professionalism), and through applying more intensive performance management accountability regimes that discipline street-level workers’ exercises of administrative discretion. Finally, the book concludes by assessing the evidence-base for a demanding, workfarist model of activation and the reasons why governments continue to favour ‘work-first’ strategies despite limited evidence of their effectiveness.
Since 2010, Ireland has followed a well-trodden path of extending the project of welfare reform beyond the activation of claimants to the ‘double’ activation of the organisations and frontline workers responsible for implementing active labour market policies on the ground. This chapter takes a closer look at ‘double activation’ as an analytical lens, and why the concept holds significance beyond describing the conjunction between the two tracks of welfare reform. What is it about the parallel unfolding of governance reforms of delivery organisations that is of wider interest to the shape of activation reform? The chapter also introduces the Governing Activation in Ireland study underpinning this book: the research design and how the study differed from previous studies of the impacts of marketisation on the frontline delivery of employment services. The chapter concludes with a consideration of the underlying conceptual linkages between workfare and marketisation, drawing attention to the theories of motivation they share and the ways in which they each involve a normative commitment to the commodification of claimants.
This introductory chapter situates the case study of Ireland that follows in the context of wider international welfare reforms. These include the social policy turn away from human capital development approaches towards a more demanding, workfare-oriented activation model, and the creation of quasi-markets in employment services. The chapter reviews these developments internationality while offering an analysis of the distinction between workfare and human capital development approaches to activation, as well as the variety of quasi-market models.
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This book assesses how the practice of contracting-out public employment services via competitive tendering and Payment-by-Results is transforming welfare-to-work in Ireland.
It offers Ireland’s introduction of a welfare-to-work market as a case study that speaks to wider international debates in social and public policy about the role of market governance in intensifying the turn towards more regulatory and conditional welfare models on the ground.
It draws on unprecedented access to, and extensive survey and interview research with, frontline employment services staff, combined with in-depth interviews with policy officials, organisational managers and jobseekers participating in activation.
The experiences of service-users and approaches of frontline staff showed that the model of support delivered under quasi-market conditions was distinctly more workfarist in orientation than the type of support that was provided by not-for-profit organisations in other parts of Ireland’s mixed economy of activation. So why did quasi-marketisation produce these policy effects? How did JobPath’s procurement model – competitive tendering, price-bidding, and performance-based contracting – spill over into organisational practices to adjust the balance between the enabling and demanding elements of activation? This chapter zooms out from the micro-level of caseworker-client interactions to consider issues of organisational dynamics and contracts’ recruitment practices and performance measurement regimes. In so doing, the chapter draws on the Irish case to engage with wider debates about the disciplining effects of managerialism and performance measurement on frontline discretion. It also offers a commentary on the ambiguous ‘professional’ status of activation work and the role of marketisation in contributing to the de-skilling and de-unionisation of employment services staff. The chapter develops the argument that marketisation reshapes agency at the street-level through both a politics of professionalism and politics of discretion
This chapter outlines how Ireland’s welfare system evolved from an ostensibly passive model with minimal conditionality to a sanctions-oriented, work-first model. Under OECD pressure to adopt a more ‘coercive’ model, payment rates were cut, eligibility conditions tightened, and sanctions introduced for non-compliance with new mutual obligations. This was paralleled by major governance reforms of operational services. The state-run employment service was replaced with an integrated benefits and employment service; Local Employment Services delivered by not-for-profit organisations became subject to tighter performance measurement; and a Payment-by-Results quasi-market was introduced to bolster capacity. The design features of JobPath are reviewed, and how it embedded market governance by organising service delivery through competitive tendering and performance-based contracting. This was in sharp contrast to the pre-existing network of Local Employment Services. However, besides these differences, the two otherwise coalesced in policy time and space. Both were targeted towards the same claimant cohorts and operated under the same activation policy setting. Thus, Ireland’s mixed economy of activation was essentially a natural policy experiment in the use of different governance modes to steer frontline delivery that the remainder of the book harnesses to assess whether and how marketisation changes the substance of policy delivery.
The Irish case offers a rare natural policy experiment for exploring the intersection between workfarist activation and welfare-to-work markets. This is due to the co-existence of two similarly targeted employment services programmes commissioned through distinct governance modes. Drawing on survey and interview research with frontline staff delivering JobPath and Local Employment Services, and with service-users participating in the programmes, this chapter explores how the two employment services differed in practice at the coalface of delivery. Formally, both services operated under the same activation policy setting. Yet, as detailed in this chapter, the two services differed in significant ways as to how they implemented this activation case management model. This was especially in relation to how they adjusted the balance between the demanding and enabling elements of activation: whether they prioritised a regulatory approach anchored in job-search conditionality and the enforcement of conduct conditions or focused predominantly on ‘employability building’ through education, training, and work experience. The interview and survey data provide robust evidence that a distinctly more workfarist approach was being enacted by the frontline workers delivering JobPath compared with how activation was being enacted by those delivering Local Employment Services.
As the two Amazon case studies have been isolated from one another to grasp their complexity, this chapter contrasts these and contextualizes them within the larger platform economy. It highlights how the case of Amazon warehouse workers illustrates, on the one hand, the historical continuation of traditional time-wage laboring where workers are assembled in the same physical space within the platform economy, sharing similarities with platforms such as Google. MTurk, on the other hand, sheds light on a different historical continuation, namely of piece-laboring, adopted by capital into the new dimension of the digital. Although even other time-wage laboring platforms are known to contract labor and depend on the ghost work of laborers like that of MTurk, the MTurk case is meant to give insights into the significance of laboring remotely through the web and that of piecework. The gig economy is founded precisely on the latter, constituting an essential part of the platform economy (see also location-based gig platforms). This chapter ultimately highlights how the platform economy may contain some peculiarities, but ultimately (re)produces current capitalist trends towards algorithmic management of labor processes, hypertaylorization of work, fragmentation of the workforce and precarization of the labor market.
This chapter examines the second case study, Amazon Mechanical Turk. In stark contrast to warehouse workers, these are organized on a web-based platform to complete piecework. This chapter investigates the relation of these dimensions to the alienation of MTurk workers regarding their labor activity, the product of labor, their species-being and their fellow humans. These are premised on an anonymized relation between the worker, who receives an alphanumerical ID, and the requester, who may not identify themselves on the platform. Workers are essentially regarded as independent contractors onto whom all possible costs are shifted, with the exception of Amazon’s physical and digital infrastructure in the form of the MTurk platform. Laboring microtasks, termed Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), from behind their screens, workers are confronted within various hyperoutsourced and virtual assembly and production lines across geographical and temporal zones. These gigs can range from classifying videos to identifying objects and answering surveys for which workers receive a piece-wage upon their completion and evaluation. Their human labor, and their labor products in the form of data, can be further used for machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) more generally. This can prove to be central to general contemporary and future technological developments which are bound to have their own repercussions.
It is becoming increasingly clear: platforms, formerly hidden behind the veils of entrepreneurship, are (re)shaping the world of work and workers. As Amazon has become a forerunner in setting these trends, this book examines two key and contrasting Amazon platforms: its e-commerce platform and its digital labor platform, Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). By accessing the workers of the (digital) shop floor, it explores how different organizations of platforms estrange and alienate workers, and how, despite these conditions, workers organize within their political-economic contexts to express their agency. To do so, it differentiates between the nature of the platform and the nature of the work. While the former can be location-based or web-based, the latter refers to a traditional time-wage or gig wage. The case of Amazon's e-commerce platform, meaning the workforce in its warehouses, resembles a location-based traditional time-wage platform, whereas MTurk is an example of a web-based gig piece-wage platform. By investigating these platforms within their political-economic context and approaching their workers on a (digital) shopfloor level, this book argues that the nature of the platform and the nature of the work organize and alienate workers in different ways, with different repercussions for their collective organization, which make themselves felt in traditional and more alternative ways. In doing so, this book shares insights into the different ways in which platforms are structured and reproduce historical continuities in organizing workers and their labor, as well as into contemporary developments that reshape labor realities and how workers organize themselves within these.