The labour markets are not just there, to be taken for granted — on the contrary, they are social and economic constructs that develop gradually, and change with the requirements of industries at any given time, while depending largely on the prevailing labour law (the government) or power plays between the labour unions and employers’ associations. Thus, while the general outlines are consistent within the OECD nations, each country has its own way of dealing with employment issues, especially the ‘atypical’ kind. For example, the UK has a much larger ratio of independent workers than the rest of continental Europe, which depends more on interim employment. For a long time, the labour market was seen as being divided between two distinct levels: on one side were highly qualified employees, with degrees and diplomas from universities and the French grandes écoles, and on the other, the poorer cousins, mainly from Third World countries, who had no qualifications to offer. There was also talk of it being split into the primary and secondary markets, or of being internal or external to the enterprise. In fact, the labour market is much more fragmented than that, and in truth should be talked of in the plural. The fragmentation of the labour market was not just the outcome of some incidental changes, but was in large part the result of the different ways that individuals reacted to the policies set down by their employers and the government.
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