Struggling for Legitimacy, the Dutch Temporary Work Agency Industry, 1961-1996




In many countries governments and labor unions have contested the post-war rise of temporary agency work, which was thought to infringe on workers' rights and security. Using a classification of Suddaby and Greenwood, we investigate the rhetorical strategies used by Dutch temporary work agencies (TWAs) to gain legitimacy for their business between 1961 and 1996. The industry combined pragmatic arguments of resolving pressing labor market issues with a value-based rhetoric of "voluntary restraint", to legitimize TWAs' as firms that maintained non-standard temporary employment relations without threatening the prevailing labor system of permanent employment. The industry's strategy of emphasizing its limited role and impact long weakened the industry in dealings with the government and the unions, but its consistent show of restraint lent credibility to the pragmatic rhetoric of "allocating" workers on the labor market that eventually gained TWAs full acceptance as a responsible industry.

The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.
Contact information:
Abe de Jong Ben Wubs
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