The gig economy and the precariat – spreading by sector, not by country

29.03.19 | News
Cykelbude i københavn
Yadid Levy /
Short gigs, freelance assignments and SMS jobs are not becoming more common in the Nordic countries. Non-standard forms of employment account for approximately one-third of jobs – the same figure as a decade ago – but the trend is more dramatic if we look at the situation sector by sector rather than country by country. “The proportion of people forced into short-term, insecure jobs is growing quickly in some sectors and poses a threat to working conditions and the Nordic model,” says Anna Ilsøe, one of the researchers behind the Future of Work project.

Are permanent, full-time jobs being replaced by non-standard forms of employment – and if so, what will happen to the Nordic model? 

This is one of the questions being studied by the 25 researchers from seven Nordic universities involved in the major project Future of Work: Opportunities and challenges for the Nordic models, which is attempting to predict what working life in the Nordic Region will look like around 2030.  


Surprising stability 

“There has been an expectation that the number of non-standard jobs will proliferate and new forms of them will emerge in the wake of digitalisation and robot technology. But our research shows that the proportion has not increased at national level. It remains surprisingly stable at around 30% of jobs in the Nordic Region,” says Ilsøe from the University of Copenhagen.

The trend has also plateaued in the rest of Europe, albeit at the higher figure of 35%. 
The problem is that people in these jobs risk not being covered by the collective bargaining model that regulates pay and working conditions, not to mention the social security system, which was originally designed for workers with full-time, permanent jobs. 

Denmark sticks out

Ilsøe and her colleagues have studied and compared non-standard forms of employment in all of the Nordic countries. They have identified interesting differences between the countries, but the big movements are mainly in particular sectors.  

“Denmark has seen rapid growth in “marginal part-time”, which is defined as working fewer than 15 hours a week, in private service, i.e. retail, hotel, restaurant and cleaning. The trend is so strong that it is visible at national level, and makes Denmark an exception to the stable Nordic situation,” Ilsøe adds.

Dead end for refugees

In Sweden too, it is mainly in hotels and restaurants that people work on non-standard contracts. 

“In Sweden, fixed-term contracts make up 15% of jobs, which is higher than in other Nordic countries.  There is a risk that this proportion will increase over the next few years as large groups of refugees attempt to gain a foothold in the world of work. It is important that short-term contracts do not become a dead end in the form of insecure and low-paid jobs but a stepping stone to stable employment.


In Finland, sole traders make up more than half of all entrepreneurs.  They work as contractors in agriculture, subcontractors in the construction industry, freelancers in the cultural sector and deliver food by bike. 

Entrepreneur or employee?

One of the problems with the self-employed is that in practice they often work as if they were employees, but they are not covered by collective bargaining agreements, employment protection and the rules and regulations governing working time and the working environment.

“Our main finding is that even though not much appears to have happened on the surface, but if you drill down into the individual sectors, major changes have in fact taken place. New flexible ways of hiring and working are being used differently in different sectors. In future, we will compare sectors, not just countries. 

The Nordic model is based on collective bargaining agreements between employers associations and trade unions that regulate pay and working conditions. 

Eroding the model sector by sector

“If some sectors start to have too many of these type of jobs, the foundation be eroded under the Nordic model will be gradually eroded in these sectors. People in these types of jobs are less likely to be unionised and protected by agreements,” Ilsøe explains.

Pay and working conditions are still better for people in non-standard jobs in the Nordic countries than in many other places.

Anna Ilsøe and her colleagues also note that young people and students are over-represented among the “marginal part-time” in Denmark, i.e. those who work fewer than 15 hours a week. In Denmark and Iceland, it is common for students to work while they study, in other words, these are part-time jobs that are absolutely voluntary. 

More people forced into non-standard employment

In Sweden, Finland and Norway, involuntary participation in various forms of non-standard employment is growing, i.e. more people who would prefer secure full-time jobs are in new, non-standard types of employment. 
Throughout the Nordic Region, it is mainly women, migrants and young people who work part-time or have temporary jobs. Among men and older people, self-employment is more common, the researchers conclude. 

Future of Work on Iceland

Anna Ilsøe is co-author of several sub-reports being published in spring 2019.  
They make up part of the Nordic Region’s contribution to the ILO centenary celebrations and an important reference document for the Future of Work conference hosted by Iceland in April 2019.
The project will publish its final report in 2020.