How do you define job insecurity and is it increasing?


A recent submission by the peak union body to a Senate inquiry on Job Security paints a stark picture of growing precarious work.


The submission by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) joins the dots and finds that more workers than ever are snared in insecure jobs.


Rather than look at insecure jobs in isolation in separate silos, the submission examines the characteristics of jobs such as casual work, underemployment in permanent part time work, contract work, the Gig Economy etc.


The submission argues the rise of insecure work in Australia is the result of a business model that shifts the risks from the employer to the employee.


It states the recovery is dominated by very insecure jobs. Almost 60 percent of net new jobs created since the worst period of the pandemic have been casual jobs. And almost two-thirds have been part time positions.


Most alarming is that a new law passed by the Morrison Government this year allows employees to be treated as casuals even though their working arrangements reflect permanent conditions.  This robs these workers of annual leave and sick leave entitlements.


The ACTU is calling on the Morrison Government to take a different direction.


The submission states Australia needs a comprehensive plan to deal with insecurity in the labour market and create more secure jobs that tackle uncertainty and instability.  This includes a meaningful and enforceable right for casual employees to transition to permanent employment, including the capacity to have conversion issues arbitrated in the Fair Work Commission.

The Australian Senate Select Committee on Job Security


The Senate Select Committee on Job Security was appointed by resolution of the Senate on 10 December 2020 and it will report on 30 November 2021.


The Australian Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into the impact of insecure or precarious employment.


The following is a summary of key points from the ACTU submission and a link to the submission is attached below.


The peak body for Australian unions, the has made a submission to the inquiry.


What is insecure work?


Insecure work is experienced by workers in a wide range of situations including casual work, sham contracting and on-demand work, outsourcing, hyper-competitive supply chains, labour hire, rolling fixed term employment contracts, underemployment, temporary work visas, and non-recurrent government funding.


Insecure work is problematic for the community at large when it is used to substitute for, or undermine, ongoing direct employment. Non-permanent working arrangements have outcomes for workers that frequently include financial insecurity, difficulty planning and saving for the future, and stress (including in the management of working time and family commitments). Many workers in this position would prefer more ongoing or permanent forms of work.


Increase of Casual Work


The use of casual employees in Australia grew strongly from the early 1980s. During this time, the casual share of all employees increased from around 13 per cent to 22 per cent.

  • Among casual workers there is a divide between those who are engaged for irregular hours and have short-term job tenure and those that are on a regular roster and are more likely to have employment that continues into the future, so-called permanent casuals.
  • Casual work is concentrated in the low paying sectors of the economy.
  • Close to 60% of all casuals have been employed in their current jobs for over a year and 17% of casuals have been in their job for more than five years.
  • A high proportion have an expectation of ongoing employment with their employer. Despite this, all casual workers are denied paid annual leave and sick leave and very often do not receive other benefits that are available to regular employees.


The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021.


The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021 passed by the Morrison Government this year allows an employee to be treated as casual even though this may not reflect actual working arrangements, thus denying them rights and entitlements and reducing their bargaining power because of the precarious nature of their employment.


In consequence, some employers will be even more likely to engage people as casual workers, knowing that by simply applying the casual label in the offer of employment they can shift risk and engage workers on an insecure basis, regardless of whether the position is indistinguishable from permanent employment.


Gig economy workers are invariably subjected to:


  1. a) lack of standard employment protections such as minimum wages, paid sick leave and holiday pay, superannuation;


  1. b) various forms of work insecurity (intermittency of work, varied start and finish times, unpredictable pay, job insecurity, and most especially, disaggregated working time, short shifts, and unpaid downtime between gigs whilst still being ‘at work)’;


  1. c) lack of coverage by the platform operators’ workers’ compensation insurance;


  1. d) pay below the legal minimum that would apply to employees, in many cases, well below. Food delivery riders report being paid as little as $6 per hour.


Income Insecurity and record low wages growth


Australian wage growth was setting post-war record lows for years before the pandemic hit.

  • Since 2013, wages decelerated dramatically from their normal pace (of 3-4% per year, or even higher in good years).
  • Wage growth (measured by the ABS’s Wage Price Index) fell by almost half, averaging just 2% per year since 2015.


ACTU: Australia needs to take a different direction.


Australia needs a comprehensive plan to deal with insecurity in the labour market and create more secure jobs that tackle uncertainty and instability;


  1. A new employment security Division inserted into the National Employment Standards of the Fair Work Act. These new provisions should include:-


(i) A revised statutory definition of casual employment that is objective and takes into account all the characteristics of the working arrangements and is not limited by or to the terms of the offer of employment.


(ii) A meaningful and enforceable right for casual employees to transition to permanent employment, including the capacity to have conversion issues arbitrated in the Fair Work Commission.


(iii) A cap on the total duration of back-to-back fixed term contracts


(iv) A minimum of ten days paid family and domestic violence leave.


(v) A new ‘same job, same pay’ provision requiring labour hire firms to provide wages and conditions of employment that are equal to or better than those that would have been received by those directly employed by the host employer had the work been performed by them.


  1. An extension to the coverage of the industrial system to workers in non-traditional working arrangements but who are not genuinely conducting a business on their own account. This could include a new statutory definition of workers covered by the Fair Work Act and the capacity for the Commission to bring workers within the scope of the Act for specified purposes.


  1. Tighter restrictions on and stronger deterrents against sham contracting arrangements. This would include removing the defence that allows employers to escape liability based on their subjective state of mind as to the relationship and increasing the penalties for those found to be in breach.


  1. A national labour hire licensing scheme that provides protections and imposes obligations are at least equivalent to those provided by existing state schemes. Government procurement policies that give preference to firms providing secure work for local communities and government employment practices that set an example by prioritising secure work arrangements for public sector employees.


ACTU submission to the Senate Select Committee on Job Security: Inquiry into the impact of insecure or precarious employment. Insecure Work in Australia ACTU Submission, 30 April 2021