Young Workers Confronted with (In)justice in the Workplace: Recourse to Industrial Tribunals and Socializing Effect of Litigation

Justice at Work
By Camille Trémeau

Based on an ethnography of young workers who have taken their employer to court, this paper examines the genesis of their mobilization. It shows that the sentiment of injustice is not necessarily the only force driving their recourse to the Council of Prud’hommes. Certainly, litigants believe that the hardships they have experienced in the workplace should be recognized and compensated symbolically and/or financially. However, next to offensive uses of justice stands a more defensive approach: for some of them, legal action is, above all, a last resort and aims to put an end to their employment contract. Furthermore, this paper sheds light on the socializing effect of litigation. Once the court proceeding is completed, although young workers can experience an improvement of their legal and procedural knowledge, it tends to remain limited to their particular case. On the other hand, the effect on their perception of employment relationships appears more striking. Their experience of the tribunals confirms the existence of conflicting interests between workers and employers and encourages the development of a consciousness of “the right to have rights.”

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