Australia’s Jobs and Insecure Work Crisis

Michele O’Neil

We know the devastation unemployment causes a person, a family, a community and the nation. The economic and social crisis facing our country is severe, and the impact will not be shared fairly.

Joblessness hasn't been worse in our lifetimes. The shocking TV footage we saw as the pandemic hit of long queues outside Centrelink offices is a defining image of the crisis.

We have had the worst news on jobs we've had since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Underemployment reached the highest level on record. Overall, one worker in five either lost their jobs or lost hours during just a month. Women, the young and part time workers have borne the brunt of the crisis.

This crisis has also shone a light on low pay and insecure work.

The incidence of insecure work in Australia is alarming. The fact that our national government and some employer groups seek to deny this reality and refuse to support reforms to better protect workers in insecure non-standard employment is a disgrace.

Many from conservative quarters like to claim that casual work is the only form of ‘nonstandard forms of employment’. Casual jobs are definitely insecure, and there are far too many casual jobs in Australia with roughly one in every four people employed on a casual basis. However, employers have discovered many other ways to shift the risk and move workers from secure to insecure forms of employment.

These strategies include: using labour hire companies to create triangular employment relationships; sacking people in standard employment and rehiring the same workers to do exactly the same job but calling them “independent contractors” to lower their labour costs; using multiple consecutive short term contracts to avoid workers receiving the benefits that only apply to those in full-time permanent positions; replacing stan