Abstract Temporary staffing has joined the ranks of the globalizing service industries. The largest agencies have now established a presence in more than sixty nations, where they are placing employees in temporary positions across a range of occupations, from clerical, cleaning and light industrial work through to accountancy, law and IT. The opening up of new occupational and geographical markets around the world has been driven by the imperative to sustain growth in sales volumes, in this business of tight margins and fierce competition. The most lucrative of the staffing industry's ‘emerging markets’ are found in the actively deregulating economies of the global North - including Spain, Germany, Italy and Japan. While exploring how the staffing industry has been active in the construction of these markets, we argue that this fast-growing business has become an important agent of labour market liberalization.