Secure jobs worth fighting for

Insecure work has been placed in the too hard basket for too long and workers are calling for legislative and cultural change to boost rates of secure employment.

If we take away anything from the last two years, it’s that job security needs to be a top priority for Australia, particularly for sectors such as early childhood education, journalist Jessica Willis writes.

Australia used to offer stable, reliable jobs. Jobs you could plan a life around.

Now, more than one in four Australian workers are in insecure work, with the rate of secure work continuing to decline.

Insecure employment leaves workers with no access to sick leave or annual leave.

It means fewer working rights, low pay and more often than not, simply not enough hours to make ends meet, meaning many people take more than one job just to get by.

In fact, the proportion of Australian workers holding multiple jobs is at its highest level in the 27 years since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) began reporting on the issue: there were 828,200 Australians working more than one job during the March quarter in 2021.

It is a policy disgrace that the current Federal Government seem to have zero appetite for change.

The impact of insecure work

The impacts of insecure work are well known: employment uncertainty, financial insecurity, halted career progression and a general inability to plan for the future.

Insecure work includes the widespread casualisation of the workforce, increased numbers of workers on short-term or fixed-term contracts (like many of the assistants working in our sector) as well as those engaged in labour hire or as ‘independent’ contractors, known as the ‘gig’ economy.

Originally, casual work waslimited to those rare cases where an employer could not cover the workload with permanent workers because of unforeseen workload peaks or temporarystaff shortages.

It was closely regulated by awards and collective agreements.

Today, insecure work is a business model used to cover entire work functions, and our work laws have made it more difficult to protect secure work.

It has resulted in a significant class of workers without jobs they can count on, little bargaining power and reduced capacity for home loans, while the cost of living continuesto increase.

Insecure jobs have resulted in Australia having greater inequality now than at any time on record and contributed to decades of near anaemic wage growth.

The pandemic has also revealed the risks of insecure work as the virus continues to expose fault lines in the labour market and disproportionally affect insecure workers.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus described it as a ‘health issue’ as well as an economic threat.

“COVID has shown us that casualisation is a weakness forour country – with one-in-three workers stranded without sick leave,” she said.

“Workers across the country are struggling with no paid leave entitlements, no confidence about where their next shift is coming from and no job security,” she said.

Insecure work in our sector

IEU-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said insecure work is a serious concern for Australian communities and families, especially those in our sector.

“Having a secure job is connected to so many things like mental health, food and housing,” he said.

“When people don’t have secure jobs, they have very limited moneyto spend in local businesses and many barely have enough to pay essential bills.

“It has ramifications throughout the community and the economy.

“It’s simply not good enough that the Federal Government has, over successive years, kept attacking working rights and secure employment, dragging Australians down.

“Many early childhood workers are in insecure jobs, particularly those who have been on rolling fixed-term contracts for years.

“While our union has been successful in helping members either move into secure jobs or negotiate collective agreements with a degree of secure work provisions, we need systemic change.

“We cannot win the fight on a case-by-case basis, and it is not fair workers are doing the heavy lifting.

“Insecure work has been placed in the too hard basket for too long and workers are calling for legislative and cultural change to boost rates of secure employment,” Terry Burke said.

The government has the power to enact legislative and policy changes, for example, enabling sector-wide bargaining would even out the power balance between workers and employers; strengthening casual conversion provisions in industry awards and the National Employment Standards; as well as increasing the minimum standards of annual leave and sick leave.

Another major change the government could adopt is committing to better long-term, consistent funding for early childhood education so that centres can commit to long-term employment for all staff members, with better pay and working conditions.

Burke said the Federal Government’s 2021 four-year funding commitment was a start; however, it fell short of delivering high quality, universally accessible and affordable early learning for every Australian child.

“Debates about the length of the funding guarantee obscure the fact that ongoing funding should exist without continued argument,” he said.

“The sector is already at a breaking point regarding the hiring and retention of staff; these changes would significantly help bolster the sector and ensure the highly trained teachers and assistants can have careers they can count on in the sector,” he said.

Unions taking the lead

The ACTU are campaigning for the Morrison Government to address the issue of insecure work, which is expected to worsen in the aftermath of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Workers deserve financial security and assurance after one of the most difficult and disruptive times in recent history.

“An increasingly insecure job market means that workers don’t have predictable, reliable hours of work that mean they can plan their lives.

“Instead, they’re forced to work multiple jobs to pay for basics,” McManus said.

“The recovery from this crisis should be an opportunity to create secure, reliable employment for Australian workers – instead we are seeing a massive increase in insecure work and multiple jobs,” she said.

Sign and share the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ online petition calling on the Morrison Government to ensure Australians have better access to secure and reliable jobs.