Submission to the Senate Select Committee on Job Security

by Dan Nahum

The Senate Select Committee on Job Security was appointed 10 December 2020, to inquire into and report on the impact of insecure or precarious employment on the economy, wages, social cohesion and workplace rights and conditions. This includes the extent of insecure and precarious employment in Australia, the impacts of COVID-19 with respect to job precarity and insecurity, the digitally-mediated ‘gig’ economy, and other matters. The Centre for Future Work has made a submission to the Select Committee.

Economist and Director Dr Jim Stanford and Economist Dan Nahum presented evidence to the Senate Committee hearing in Melbourne on 20 April 2021. Read the transcript of their testimony below.

Over time, insecure work has become more prevalent in the Australian economy. These types of employment – including but not limited to jobs without paid leave – shift financial burden and risk from employers to workers. The economic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt most acutely by this significant proportion of workers who were in casual positions or worked variable hours. These effects were disproportionately experienced by women and young workers.

The rebound in casual employment since May 2020 constituted the fastest surge of casual job growth in Australian history – over 400,000 jobs. And other forms of insecure work have also surged since the recovery began: for example, the number of ‘owner-managers of unincorporated enterprises without employees’ – the most precarious business structure, and which includes gig workers – has grown to record-high levels, and in February 2021 accounted for well over a million Australian workers.

It is no coincidence that the expansion of precarious labour has occurred at a time of record-low wage growth. Precarity makes it more difficult for workers to organise and collectively bargain. And on an individual basis, it undermines workers’ ability to ask for higher wages.

While much of the government’s Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021 (Amendment Act) was abandoned during its passage through Parliament, the remaining provisions still push the dial in precisely the wrong direction. The new legislation explicitly confirms the right of employers to define workers as casuals, even if the work they perform is regular.

Improving the security of the labour market for workers and their families should be a key component of a long-term strategy for inclusive economic recovery, including expanded public investment, increased spending power for workers to lift aggregate demand, and improved job stability and equity. To this end, our submission makes several recommendations that would help to reduce the incidence and consequences of insecure work, and enhance the access of Australian workers to better, more secure jobs. These include recommendations dealing with:

  1. The importance of governments’ commitment to a macroeconomic vision of full employment, such that workers would have more secure job opportunities to choose from.
  2. Governments must enable platform (or ‘gig’) workers to access the same rights, entitlements and income and safety protections as permanent, conventionally employed workers.
  3. Casual employment status should be limited to situations that are truly ‘casual’ (for example: job roles based on seasonal, fluctuating or peak demand).
  4. Employees of any employment status who do not have regular hours should be notified of their hours at least two weeks in advance.
  5. Governments should commit, wherever practicable, to employ staff in permanent and direct positions, rather than temporarily and/or through third parties such as labour hire companies.
  6. Governments should preferentially procure from Australian firms that demonstrate adherence to norms of secure employment, including permanency and adequate working hours to support a living wage.

Full submission