‘Doing Dignity Work’: Indian Security Guards’ Interface with Precariousness

Journal of Business Ethics 162 (3):553-575 (2020)
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Increasing global competition has intensified the use of informal sector workforce worldwide. This phenomenon is true with regard to India, where 92% of the workers hold precarious jobs. Our study examines the dynamics of workplace dignity in the context of Indian security guards deployed as contract labour by private suppliers, recognising that security guards’ jobs were marked by easy access, low status, disrespect and precariousness. The experiences of guards serving bank ATMs were compared with those working in large reputed organisations. The former reported loss of dignity though their inherent self-worth remained partially intact, whereas the latter reclaimed dignity despite the precarious working conditions and the absence of unions. Guards from large reputed organisations evolved strategies by which they took advantage of the client’s vulnerabilities, developed ‘thick’ relationships at work and immersed themselves in 'doing dignity work' to ensure that they are not disposable. ‘Doing dignity work’ was a visible device which involved actions that met or went beyond the norms laid down by the client and was used by security guards to limit the extent of their precariousness. Since the opportunity to reclaim dignity was facilitated by large reputed clients’ adherence to legal regulations, we see implications of the study for the moral economy.



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