Low-skilled workers in the "Knowledge Based-Economy": The Case of the Pharmaceutical Sector in France and Belgium
When social sciences study the workforce in the “knowledge economy”, they focus on the most highly skilled workers (managers and professionals). This article addresses the issue of the role and the employment conditions of low-skilled workers in the knowledge industries. How can we explain the persistence of low-skilled workers and bad jobs in high-tech sectors? And do the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy take advantage of working in a knowledge-based sector? From a collective survey conducted in the pharmaceutical sector (ethnographic surveys in production plants and drug distribution centers), we show that in this sector low-skilled workers (mainly women) are confined to low status jobs, with poor evolution prospects coupled with a growing use of temporary contracts. Although they manipulate high-tech products (drugs), low-skilled workers do not enjoy better working conditions than low-skilled workers in other industrial sectors. And we could even make the hypothesis that the situation of low skilled workers is even less enviable because they have to comply with the specific regulations of the pharmaceutical sector to guarantee the continuity of health care and safety; constraints that necessarily result in highly flexible schedules and variable work intensity.
Pharmaceutical industry; warehousewomen; drug; low-skilled workers
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