Fewer than half of Australians now work in a traditional job

Fewer than half of employed Australians now hold a standard, traditional job, according to a new report into the growth of insecure employment published by the Centre for Future Work. The report, The Dimensions of Insecure Work: A Factbook, reviews eleven statistical indicators of the growth in employment insecurity over the last five years: including part-time work, short hours, underemployment, casual jobs, marginal self-employment, and jobs paid minimum wages under modern awards. It defines a standard job as permanent full-time paid work with leave entitlements. According to the authors, all the indicators of job stability have declined since 2012, thanks to a combination of weak labour market conditions, aggressive profit strategies by employers, and passivity by labour regulators.

Together, these trends have produced a situation where over 50 per cent of Australian workers now experience one or more of these dimensions of insecurity in their jobs – and less than half have access to “standard,” more secure employment. The report also documents the low and falling earnings received by workers in insecure jobs. While real wages for those in permanent full-time positions (the best-paid category) have grown, wages for casual workers have declined. And part-time workers in marginal self-employed positions (including so-called “gig” workers) have fared the worst: with real wages falling 26 percent in the last five years.

“Australians are rightly worried about the growing insecurity of work, especially for young people,” said Dr. Jim Stanford, one of the co-authors of the report. “Many young people are giving up hope of finding a permanent full-time job, and if these trends continue, many of them never will. Given current labour market conditions and lax labour standards, employers are able to hire workers on a ‘just-in-time’ basis,” Dr. Stanford said. “They employ workers only when and where they are most needed, and then toss them aside. This precariousness imposes enormous risks and costs on workers, their families, and the whole economy.”

Dr. Stanford called on policy-makers to address growing precariousness with stronger rules to protect workers in insecure jobs (such as provisions for more stable schedules, and options to transition to permanent from casual work). He also stressed the need for economic policies that target the creation of permanent full-time jobs.