Contributed by Jim Hayes
The pushing of big numbers into casualised work has brought in a major change in the nature of the workforce in Australia, and this makes it necessary to fight for better wagers and conditions for this part of the workforce.
A component of the change has been the emergence of the gig economy. This is where a person is not paid by the hour, but for carrying out a task. The gig worker is summoned via an app downloaded onto their smart phone. It often means having to be on standby and being paid nothing in between carrying out the tasks. For example, a recent report found Uber drivers in Australia earn an average of $14.62, which is under the $17.50 minimum wage rate.
A big part of the over all problem of casualised work is the labour hire industry, which is being used by corporations to undermine the position of permanent employees and has been at the centre of a high proportion of recent industrial disputes. Labour hire companies face little regulation. Workers tied to labour hire allows companies contract themselves out to them and are then rented out to employers, and this does not have top be at the going wage rate and under customary conditions.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) Change The Rules campaign has taken this on board and called for equal wages and conditions for the casualised workforce, plus the right to be shifted over to full time and permanent employment after six months.
Under this definition, entitlements to holiday pay, sick leave, workers compensation in the case of injury and holiday pay go out the window,alongside the reality of a lower wage. On top of this, casualised workers, may not receive the same standard when it comes to occupational health and safety.
Insecure work has been an important factor in keeping wages down across the board.
Working conditions have also been affected. A casual workforce has less capacity to assert itself, is not covered by unfair dismissal law and is often desperate enough to accept inferior working conditions. This makes the position of the permanent workforce less secure, in a similar way that a high level of unemployment will.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus says that the government, being the biggest purchaser of goods and services in the country ($450 billion worth), can use this to exert an influence over employment practices through the economy.
“[We need to] rewrite the commonwealth procurement rules to ensure that the government hires directly and locally, and prefers local businesses, which pay fairly and provide secure jobs,” she adds.
Ensuring that major employers pay proper wages and provide ongoing work is not only the business of the unions. Stagnant wages growth is a major weakness in the Australian economy. It is unfair, because the wealth created in the country is not distributed through the community in a just way, and this denies many the capacity to buy what the economy makes.
The consequent shrinking of the domestic market reduces business opportunities. Businesses close, jobs go, and economic growth goes backwards.
If any serious effort is going to be put to putting the Australian economy on the path to good health, one of the necessary conditions is to raise the wages of all, and this requires a redistribution of national income towards the workforce and away from major shareholders.
This task cannot be carried out, if the growth of an underpaid casualised workforce exists to undermine it.