Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 8: The Rise in Precarious Employment and Union Responses in Australia
Iain Campbell INTRODUCTION Precariousness is a contested concept (Barbier, 2005). In this chapter precarious employment is understood as employment that is deficient in one or more aspects of labour security when compared with the societal standard for a decent job (Vosko et al., 2009). The rise in precarious employment in Australia refers to two distinct but overlapping processes. First, it refers to the resurgence of certain forms of non-standard employment that are characterized by substandard rights and benefits. Second, it refers to the spread of precariousness within sections of what has usually been regarded as the core workforce, supposedly protected by a full-time ‘permanent’ employment contract. Not all non-standard forms of employment are precarious. The three forms that attract concern in Australia are: marginal self-employment, fixed-term waged work and casual waged work. Concerns with selfemployment are focused on a group of independent contractors who are more properly regarded as ‘dependent’, that is, subordinate in practice to just one employer. They are often indistinguishable from employees in the way they work within the workplace, though they lack the standard rights and benefits of employees. The current size of this group is small – an estimated 2.6 per cent of the workforce (Table 8.1) – but dependent contracting is common in blue-collar industries such as transport and construction, where it is used by employers to avoid the costs associated with standard employment and union organization (Productivity Commission 2006, pp. 132–8). Apart from small categories such as apprentices and trainees, the two main types...
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