Originally published in The New Daily on March 8, 2024

The Fair Work Commission is examining how to reduce insecurity and unpredictability in part-time and casual work to help employees better balance work and care.

The Commission is reviewing modern awards that set out terms and conditions of employment for many working Australians to consider how workplace relations settings in awards impact on work and care. This follows a 2023 finding by the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into Work and Care last year that there is a “work and care crisis”.

The Select Committee’s final report noted “too many Australians are working in conditions that lack predictable hours and thus pay”, making it difficult to manage their care responsibilities with paid work.

Insufficient income to meet family needs, inability to plan, inability to access suitable care, high stress levels and lack of time for life are some of the negative impacts of insecure and unpredictable part-time and casual work for workers with caring responsibilities.

Women are overrepresented in part-time and casual jobs, as they continue to provide most unpaid care for children, elderly parents, and sick or disabled family members. Among women, casual employment is most common among 15 to 34 year-olds, while for men it is highest among those aged 65 years and older. Women’s casual employment is linked to child-rearing.

Pay rates in casual jobs are often lower than for employees in equivalent permanent part-time and full-time jobs, despite casual loadings. Underemployment is also high and unpredictable working hours are common among casual and part-time employees, including in services sectors such as retail and care. In both sectors, insecure casual jobs provide workers with very little control over their work hours. Lack of control over hours is often a feature of permanent part-time jobs as well as casual jobs

In a job with unpredictable hours it can be extremely difficult to organise and manage the costs of care. For example, for parents, uncertainty of working hours and income can make access to reliable and affordable childcare impossible. Unpredictable short-hours rosters can make it barely worth working at all as income may not cover the costs of formal childcare.

Good quality, secure part-time jobs have long been regarded as essential for greater gender equality in employment, including as part-time jobs can support better sharing of care among men and women. However, the expansion of part-time work in the Australian economy since the 1980s has been an expansion of casual and part-time jobs that are highly insecure, often low-paid and with poorer conditions, protections and entitlements than most full-time jobs.

It is possible to make casual and part-time jobs more secure and predictable. The Fair Work Commission’s analysis of industrial awards shows that there are many provisions in awards applying to part-time and casual employment that contribute to insecurity and lack of predictability. Award provisions include, for example, short minimum payments periods, broken shifts, poor guarantees around minimum and regular hours of work, little or no payment for travel time between different work locations, little or no notice of roster changes and poor compensation for being on-call.

Secure work and a living wage are fundamental to good work and care arrangements. Secure work doesn’t just mean ongoing work or protection from unfair dismissal. Secure work entails adequate and predictable work hours, reasonable flexibility of working time, compensation for unsocial hours, safety at work and access to union representation.

Worker-carers should also have rights to carer’s leave and personal leave, regardless of their employment arrangements. Systems of portable leave entitlements could help all workers manage care and work at all stages of their working lives. These and other leave entitlements would have the benefit of supporting a better sharing of care.

The Fair Work Commission’s will complete its review in the middle of 2024. It is to be hoped that this leads to improved working conditions for worker carers, enabling men and women to care and work without paying the price through job insecurity.

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