Over the past 20 years, one of the biggest trends in the Australian workplace has been the move away from full-time secure jobs to precarious employment.
Indeed, in 2016/17 for the first time in Australian history fewer than 50% of the national workforce was classified as being in permanent fulltime employment , with the majority in part-time or casualised, often sporadic jobs that offered little if any certainty or security.
Take nursing as an example; in 2016, almost half (49%) of employed registered nurses, midwives, and 59% of the enrolled nurse population worked less than 35 hours per week.
Precarious work is frequently associated with the following types of employment: casual, part time employment, self-employment, fixed-term work, temporary work, oncall work, home based work, agency and independent contract work. Precarious work is nonstandard employment that is usually poorly paid, insecure, unprotected, and cannot support a family. In recent decades, there has been a dramatic increase in precarious work due to such factors as globalisation, the shift from the manufacturing sector to the service sector, and the weakening of employment and workplace laws.
For many the increasing uncertainty and insecurity in employment was a necessary result of the “winds of globalisation”; or the “nature of the modern economy”, outcomes required to ensure Australian business could compete on the world stage. Globalisation, the unfettered economic expansion across borders that, along with free trade, many viewed as the unstoppable and immutable ideology that would maximise productivity and efficiency.
For a long time, supporters of globalisation argued the advantages would benefit all. These acolytes were also adept at convincing governments and commentators that the containment of labour costs through a cap on wages, cuts to staff and penalty rates and outsourcing of work would lead to a boom in productivity and prosperity.
In retrospect, this faith has proven to be naïve or intentionally misleading. There have clearly been winners and losers. The winners have been the top echelon and the shareholders of multinational corporations. The losers have been individuals who lost their jobs, the families who now cope with reduced incomes and communities that have lost contact with their citizens.
Many multinational companies now stand accused of waging a war against working families, using the global economy as a way to free themselves from regulation and responsibilities to their employees and communities, drive down employment standards and ship jobs overseas.
The evidence of the devastation of globalisation has led to a call for new global rules – rules that require an economic system where people and communities matter.
International bodies including the International Labour Organization, global unions, and church and community groups are calling on all governments to ensure their business and workplace laws have as its lodestone the aim of improving the rights, livelihoods and opportunities of people, families and communities. Fundamental to this is the approach to labour and employment laws and the need to remind governments and employers that labour is not like an apple or a television set, an inanimate product that can be negotiated for the highest profit or the lowest price. Rather work is part of everyone’s daily life and is crucial to a person’s dignity, wellbeing and development as a human being. Accordingly, economic development should include the creation of jobs and working conditions in which people can work in freedom, safety and dignity.
In Australia the ACTU is campaigning to “Change the Rules” calling on governments to bring back fairness to our workplace laws. They cite the Subway, 7 Eleven and Caltex exploitation of vulnerable workers as examples of our current laws that allow dodgy employers to cut pay and slash conditions. More broadly the ACTU points to wages growth in Australia at record lows , cuts to penalty rates in the hospitality and retail sectors, high youth unemployment and falling household incomes at a time of booming company profits as evidence the laws are failing working people and need to change to improve equality and fairness.
ANMF supports the ACTU campaign. We join in the call for changes that will promote the employment of nurses and midwives on conditions that support job security and wages and employment conditions that provide for a decent life.
Senior Federal Industrial Officer