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Fragmented Futures

Fragmented Futures

New challenges in working life

By Ian Watson, John Buchanan, Iain Campbell and Chris Briggs


Fragmented Futures examines how working life has become more 'fragmented' as a result of significant social and economic change in Australia in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It asks how we should address such fragmentation in pursuit of a society in which prosperity is shared, diversity, choice and opportunity are increased, and exclusion and inequality are minimised.

The book begins by examining the dominant model for Australian working life throughout most of the twentieth century (known as 'Harvester man'), its breakdown and the response to date. It then explores the specific fragmentation processes that have occurred, using a combination of surveys, statistics and other qualitative and quantitative research. Trends and issues covered include:

  • our aspirations
  • opportunities for work, unemployment and underemployment
  • industry restructuring and the disappearance of jobs and occupations
  • the growth of non-standard forms of employment
  • longer and more intense working hours
  • wage trends and the rising gap between rich and poor
  • the work/life balance
  • skills, training and education
  • retirement and superannuation
  • how international factors such as increased competition, consumption and investment have contributed to the above changes.

Fragmented Futures provides a foundation on which to begin addressing the real social problems faced in work and life today. Its themes are at the core of everyday Australian experience; our response to its challenges will determine every Australian's future.



Outline of the book
The matter of words

Where have we come from?

Harvester man
New realities at work

What do people want from work?

The quality of working life
Consumption patterns and working

Who gets the opportunity to work?

The challenge of unemployment

Where are the jobs now?

The decline in full-time permanent waged jobs
Industry employment
Occupational change

What is non-standard work?

Fixed-term employment
Dependent contractors
Non-standard employment and skills formation

Are people now working longer and harder?

Extended hours
Work intensification
Key elements of work intensification
Industry case studies

How is work rewarded?

Historical background
Earnings inequality
The low-paid workforce

How do people balance work and life?

Experiencing work and life
A more diverse workforce
Labour-market transitions for workers with families
Jobs and the balance

Whatever happened to life long learning?

From front end training to life long learning?
Workers: rising education levels
Employers: stagnant contributions
Deployment, not development, of labour
Wasted skills and quality problems

Is retirement something to look forward to?

Retirement and the labour market
Retirement incomes
Economic implications
Housing and household debt
The challenge of savings

What lies behind the changes at work?

Recent Australian economic developments
Excess capacity
Development and inequality
Wage inequality


Improvements, but problems
Sustainable social and economic development
Immediate concerns


It’s a fantastic book. Every country ought to have a book like this written about its labour market. It is detailed, reflecting the collective experience of the authors, and yet it also manages to paint ‘the big picture’ of how the Australian labour market is, and how it is changing. At the same time, the book resists the temptation to simplify the processes of the labour market to make them seem consistent with an ideology, be it Marxist or a belief in the inevitability of globalization or the market. It shows a labour market full of contradictions, paradoxes and compromises. ... I thoroughly recommend this book, and will list it as essential reading on my Masters level course on the sociology of labour markets.

Brendan Burchell, (Cambridge University) Work, Employment and Society, Vol 19(2) 437, Winter 2005

The fragmentation of the working relationship in Australia has had many consequences, and this book seeks to give some serious consideration to many of them. … The book addresses, for example, the problems of skills development for part-time and casual workers. … The book looks at work intensification and longer work hours, the decline of special savings and the retreat of the welfare state. The related implications of such trends for Australian workers, and most especially marginalised Australian workers, is a key contribution of the book. The chapter on the rewards of work is well done. … I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled “Is retirement something to look forward to?”. The answer is, it depends, though for those workers for whom workplace fragmentation has meant a string of casual jobs, the answer is ‘no’. I haven’t seen this emerging socio-economic issue in the Australian context explored as well elsewhere, and this particular issue is going to be one that continues to grow in importance. …

John Rice, International Journal of Employment Studies, Vol 12 No 1, (April 2004), 145

Fragmented Futures examines changes in working life, including the diminishing influence of the ‘Harvester man’ model, and rising earnings inequality, and analyses the associated consequences for employees, firms and society. In this respect, the book highlights the emerging social costs which are often neglected or underestimated in other works. In recognising and seriously examining these social implications, it contributes valuable Australian evidence to international debates focusing on policy formation, equity and social welfare.
The book draws upon the concept of the life-cycle and employees’ subsequent labour market transitions. Its structure consists of various themes including working-life and the changing nature of work, work-life balance, education and training, unemployment and under-employment, and retirement. Within each of these themes, the authors combine statistical information, focus group interviews, and workplace and industry case studies in order to illustrate contemporary developments in the world of work. …
Fragmented Futures would make a very useful textbook for students, and provides a revealing insight into the implications of policy reform for a wider audience. It presents a fascinating yet highly concerning depiction of the present state of the Australian world of work. Moreover, it is a very accessible book as the chapters are easily digested, in well-sized chunks. …
The book is more valuable than the personal experiences described by Ehrenreich (Nickle and Dimed, Granta, 1998) and Toynbee (Hard Work, Bloomsbury, 2003) because it utilises large-scale quantitative data and then contextualises the findings by considering Australian workers’ ‘stories’. In doing so, the authors reveal the social consequences and broader implications of policy changes for both employees and the community. The ‘stories’ add a nuanced depth and complexity to the raw statistics. Most importantly though, the statistical data in Fragmented Futures enhance the representativeness of the findings for Australia; Ehrenreich’s and Toynbee’s books lack this strength.
Given its aims, it is difficult to be critical of this book … [T]he authors identify a range of very important and troubling issues emerging in Australian working life and then go some way towards developing potential responses for overcoming the contemporary problems.

Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 46(2), June 2004

  Three separate books have recently questioned the assumption that workplace change is all positive and set out to to expose the casualties of increased productivity and economic growth. Michael Pusey … Barbara Pocock … and now Fragmented Futures tackle familiar themes: work intensification, work-life balance and the creation of insecure work. Watson et al bring to bear a greater empiricial and IR focus. But all three [books] draw from the same well: the pursuit of Thatcherite deregulation has polarised society and is undermining social conhesion. …
Fragmented Futures provides an evocative image to explain the authors’ main thesis of workplace fragmentation – a centrifuge unrestrained by central government, flinging off fragments to the mercy of the free market. … The authors sheet home blame to excess capacity and financial institutions, and avoid relying on the forces of globalisation and competition. They may have seen the need to move beyond simple mantra, but they may also have gone too far in avoiding reference to globalisation theories.

Marcus Priest, Boss (Australian Financial Review), 12 September 2003, 79

Through a combination of surveys, statistics and other research, it delves into trends and issues such as industry restructuring and the disappearance of jobs and occupations, longer and more intense working hours, and retirement and superannuation. Of particular interest is a chapter on the disappearance of life-long learning which argues that deployment of labour is more important than its development.
Concisely and insightfully written …
Content   9/10
Readability   7/10
Presentation   8/10

Human Resources, Issue 38, 13 August 2003

Much of what is said in this title is familiar to most of us. Increasingly, in my work a significant proportion of time is taken up in dealing with and overcoming labour market issues similar to those indicated by Watson et al: stress due to work volume pressures; demands for greater productivity; constant change; and uncertainty about the future. … although much of what I have read in this publication is not news, it has indeed been thought-provoking. It develops several themes and issues … with clearly developed arguments that are enhanced by evidence of thorough research, and backed up by appropriately sourced statistics and anecdotes. Along the way, I found definitions of my existing work/life vocabulary elucidated and expanded, which have provided me with a more cohesive way of thinking and talking about modern workplace issues.

Australian Journal of Career Development, Vol 13(1), Autumn 2004


Published July 2003
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862874718
Australian RRP $49.50
International Price $45.00
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Industrial Relations / EEO
Management & Human Resources
Social Studies

Workplace Research Centre

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