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Off the waterfront: the long-run impact of technological change on dock workers

El-Sahli, Zouheir; Upward, Richard


Zouheir El-Sahli


We investigate how individual workers and local labour markets adjust over a long time period to a discrete and plausibly exogenous technological shock, namely the introduction of containerisation in the UK port industry. This technology, which was introduced rapidly between the mid-1960s and the late-1970s, had dramatic consequences for specific occupations within the port industry. Using longitudinal micro-census data we follow dock-workers over a 40 year period and examine the long-run consequences of containerisation for patterns of employment, migration and mortality. The results show that the job guarantees negotiated by the unions protected dock-workers' employment until the guarantees were removed in 1989. A matched comparison of workers in comparable unskilled occupations reveals that, even after job guarantees were removed, dock-workers did not fare worse than the comparison group in terms of their labour market outcomes. Our results suggest that job guarantees provided a safety net which reduced the cost to workers of sudden technological change.


El-Sahli, Z., & Upward, R. (in press). Off the waterfront: the long-run impact of technological change on dock workers. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 55(2),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2017
Online Publication Date May 9, 2017
Deposit Date Jan 30, 2017
Publicly Available Date May 10, 2019
Journal British Journal of Industrial Relations
Print ISSN 0007-1080
Electronic ISSN 1467-8543
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 2
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: El-Sahli, Z. and Upward, R. (2017), Off the Waterfront: The Long-Run Impact of Technological Change on Dockworkers. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 55: 225–273. doi:10.1111/bjir.12224 which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


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