The questions that count

Do people really want job security?

Feb 10, 2012

ACTU President Ged Kearney gives the low down on the ACTU’s secure work inquiry.

There was a time when you had a job for life. The same one or two employers for 30 plus years. You had entitlements, the occasional pay rise, a chance for promotion and, if nothing else, security.

In the 21st century all that has changed. Gen Y workers like flexibility, choosing casual or part time work over the anchor that is a full time job. Other workers want to balance career and family life and are pleased to have the option of casual or contract work, with higher rates but without entitlements.

Casual workers now make up almost one quarter of Australian employees – one of the highest rates in the OECD. And contract work is steadily rising in all kinds of industries.

But what happens when you are working in an ongoing role but with no prospect of becoming a permanent worker? When banks are reluctant to lend to you and long term planning for a future becomes uncertain?

These are some of many aspects which the ACTU’s national inquiry is examining through its hearings into insecure work. Chaired by former deputy PM Brian Howe and comprising members from the highest level of labour law, academia and the union movement, the national hearings are examining the economic and social implications of insecure or fixed term employment as well as suggesting future policy directions.

You can find out more about the inquiry here.

“Workers have told us that insecure work makes it harder for them to manage the household finances, to spend time with their family and friends, and to plan for the future,” said ACTU president Ged Kearney.

“ The job of our new inquiry is to shine a light on the plight of insecure workers in Australia, and work out what government, employers and unions should be doing to help them.”

Ged asks here on the Punch – “are you feeling insecure?

Approaching its task the panel is very much aware of the importance of flexible or non-standard work practices to both employers and employees.  On the one hand, Australia must continue to maximise its economic productivity yet there are still issues of fairness and responsibility to be taken into account.

Employers argue that many workers actually want casual work arrangements. But the ACTU says that there must be security — such as avenues for challenging unfair dismissal and long-term casuals being given the right to convert to permanent work after a set period of time.

Casual workers are telling the ACTU their stories of insecure work, highlighting the need for these sorts of protections.

The dynamism of the modern labour market presents very significant challenges for people who much more frequently change their work status – moving between jobs, between education or caring and work, from unemployment to employment or from employment to retirement.

Disturbingly, one submission gave evidence about the link between casual workers and homelessness.

With 500 submissions received  — 450 of which came from individual workers — the inquiry will prepare a report to present to the Federal Government by April.  The first hearings were held in Brisbane on February 13.



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