‘We are the backbone of the community’ – precarious multiple employment and the complex dynamics of dignity in, out and between work

This CERIC seminar is presented by Prof Jo McBride (Durham University), Prof Miguel Martinez Lucio (University of Manchester) and Dr Andrew Smith (University of Sheffield).

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This is an in-person event that will also be live-streamed via Zoom.


This article critically examines the complex dynamics related to dignity at work in contemporary precarious employment in the UK. Centred on the working experiences of low-paid workers in legitimate multiple employment, detailed qualitative interviews were conducted with 50 workers all struggling to make ends meet. Drawing on original dignity at work (DAW) frameworks, the research reveals evidence to contribute to 2 dimensions of DAW discussions -  an intensification of work and poor management; yet these workers also face daily challenges across several workplaces as they traverse a multitude of complex temporalities and spatialities of work making the concept of DAW more complex. The contributions of the research also highlight the increasing significance of two new dimensions to DAW discussions.  Firstly, stigma, humiliation, and shame as these workers struggled to earn a living. Secondly, the study illuminates contradictions related to the value of work, where many workers were not appreciated, yet held socially important jobs considered as being ‘the backbone of the community’.  The overall significant contribution is that the nature and fragmentation of multiple employment means there are further turbulent complexities relating to dignity in, out and in between jobs. Finally, the article points to the relevance of these issues for questions related to the focus of decent work regulation debates.


Jo McBride – Professor in Work and Employment Relations, Durham University.

Jo’s research interests centre around low-paid, low-skilled workers in multi-precarious employment and social perceptions of the value of jobs. She critically evaluates low-paid multiple employment and in-work poverty and examines the value of work and the politics of representation. Jo was President of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA) from 2016 to 2019 and a member of the UK Employee Relations Institute Executive Board.  She has published in ‘British Journal of Industrial Relations’, ‘Work, Employment and Society’, ‘Economic and Industrial Democracy’, ‘Capital and Class’ and ‘New Technology, Work and Employment’.

Miguel Martinez Lucio – Professor at the University of Manchester

Miguel is also involved in the Alliance Manchester Business School and the Work & Equalities Institute. He publishes on questions of regulation and employment, the politics of equality and inclusion at work, trade union renewal, and comparative industrial relations generally.  

Andrew Smith – Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations and Human Resource Management, School of Management, University of Sheffield

Andrew Smith is the Head of the Work, Employment and Organisations subject group. Andrew’s research focuses on low-paid multiple employment, the complexities of work-life ‘balance’, working time and public sector employment change. He has published in the journals 'Work, Employment and Society', 'New Technology, Work and Employment' and the 'British Journal of Industrial Relations'. 

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