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Bicycle Couriers in the 'New' Economy

posted on 2023-06-08, 07:54 authored by Ben FinchamBen Fincham
Recently there has been much discussion around changing patterns of employment. An increasingly globalised economy: demands for a flexible labour force and the increase in part time employment: the shift from manufacturing to service industries: a time, some argue, of increasing individualisation and risk all contribute to a social and economic period being understood as the ‘new economy’. There has been a large body of work undertaken to study recent trends in employment in the new economy in certain sectors of the service industry. Call centres have been an area of increasing scrutiny, as have fast food outlets, notably McDonalds. Most of the literature on young adults concentrates on the transition from school to work. However other groups of workers, especially young workers - are largely absent from the literature. It is in this context that the study will be an analysis of a relatively new occupation serviced by relatively young adults, specifically in the 20 – 40 age bracket – bicycle couriers. Bicycle couriering has developed as a major part of messenger/parcel transportation in Britain, with firms operating in most major cities. Despite bicycle couriering being a legitimate service industry, those working as bicycle couriers contradict the image of traditional employment legitimacy. Bicycle messengers often operate outside of traditional formal employment. They rarely, if ever, have contracts; they have no pension, and are on low commission based pay. Risk of injury is a significant component of many occupations, but the question needs to be asked, what is it that makes bicycle couriering attractive to those that work in the industry when the pay and conditions are poor and the risk of injury high? Much of the literature concerning 'new economy' labour markets highlight features such as flexibility, lack of long term tenure and 'risk' as being indicative of a wholesale shift from one labour market paradigm to another. This paper uses the bicycle messenger industry to interrogate the 'new economy thesis'.


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Cardiff University Press



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Cardiff University

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