During his appearance at a public hearing on 16 September 2021, Professor Anthony LaMontagne talked about the notion of sustainable work:
In an ideal society we would like any working person to be able to work without being harmed by their work and we would like them to be able to do that job for a working lifetime. That would be an ideal. We're far from that.
Throughout this inquiry, the committee has heard from dozens of working Australians who are hurting. Everyday working people who feel they cannot get ahead in life; who feel they are being harmed by their work. Like Simon, who said:
… we have not had a pay rise in 2 years. In the 14 years my pay has gone up less than $5 an hour. Sydney is a bloody expensive city to live and wages should reflect that.
Or Kristie, who graduated as a teacher in 2015, and said:
… due to rampant casualisation of teaching, I have still not, like THOUSANDS of others, gained permanent employment. Teachers, with degree qualifications, are working day to day casual or on temporary contracts for literal YEARS on end, not knowing what we are doing from one day to the next.
Or Alison, who works full-time hours for a major supermarket, and said:
… the wage that I make is not enough to live on. The last year and a half have been tough at work, dealing with customers panic shopping. Thanks to the LNP I have also had my penalty rates cut. I work every Sunday and most of the public holidays as well just to bring a bit more money into the household, yet there never seems to be enough…
Or Rigzin, who works for a charity helping other people to find work, but whose own job is insecure:
Our program is funded for three years every round and there is no security that the job will be there. … I have found it difficult to apply for a mortgage or another loan because my work is insecure.
The committee has balanced the evidence received from employers and industry, with what is has heard from workers around Australia. We have interrogated the popular narrative in which commentators use certain data and statistics to argue that insecure work has not increased. That narrative does not gel with what Australians are experiencing in their own lives.
As the committee demonstrated in Chapter 2 of this report: dig a little deeper into the statistics and data and it becomes clear that insecure work has increased, and is increasing. It will continue to do so unless governments use the legislative, investment, expenditure, and policy levers under their control to reverse this trend.
In service of this aim, the committee has already made recommendations to address:
gaps and misinformation in national datasets;
the impacts of insecure work on mental and physical health and wellbeing;
casual employment and causal conversion;
on-demand platform work and the 'Uberisation' of work in disability care and other sectors;
the impact of on-demand platforms on the transport sector through the 'Amazon effect';
defending secure jobs through public sector procurement, and rebuilding the Australian Public Service; and
reducing and better regulating labour hire, contracting and outsourcing—including in mining, agriculture and across the public sector.
This final chapter presents the committee's remaining recommendations, designed to contribute to a positive vision for Industrial Relations reform and begin the process of reversing the trend towards insecure work.
Codifying job security
The committee notes that the ACTU has called for 'a national target to halve the proportion of insecure jobs in Australia by the end of 2030'.
While there is currently no accepted measure of insecure work, and no national metric, the committee believes this is a laudable aim. The committee is instead supporting a proposed amendment to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Fair Work Act) that would see 'job security' inserted as a principal 'Object of the Act', at section 3 of the Fair Work Act.
The Object of the Act is currently stated as:
… to provide a balanced framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations that promotes national economic prosperity and social inclusion for all Australians by… [a number of sub clauses follow]
These are worthy aims but more needs to be done. The committee believes that adding 'job security' as a criterion in the Object of the Act would provide a firm legislative foundation, elevating secure job creation to the status it deserves.
The committee also supports the suggestion that 'job security' and 'gender equality' should be added into the list of 'objectives and tests of the award review process in the Fair Work Act'.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government amends the Fair Work Act 2009 by inserting the words 'job security' and 'gender equity' into the principal Object of the Act (section 3), and adding 'job security' and 'gender equity' into the list of matters that need to be taken into account as part of 'The modern awards objective' (section 134) in the Fair Work Act 2009.
Incentivising secure job creation
As the economy slowly recovers from the impacts of the pandemic, wage subsidies and job creation programs will likely be a feature of the recovery.
Wage subsidies can be powerful tools to assist in the process of creating new jobs, but if the jobs created are casual, part-time, low-paid jobs, and/or those jobs cannibalise existing permanent jobs, there is a net loss for society.
Government programs and subsidies must be carefully designed to ensure they will lead to the creation of good, secure jobs that grow the economy and benefit families and communities.
Potential impacts on job security should be a key consideration in evaluating the design and relative merit of policy proposals that relate to employment.
As such, the committee is supporting the suggestion that an evaluation tool be developed, and its use mandated for assessing relevant policy proposals for their impacts (positive and negative) on job security.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government considers developing a tool for evaluating and rating policy proposals in respect of their potential impacts (positive and/or negative) on job security, and makes assessment against the tool mandatory for all relevant new policy proposals. Policy initiatives that are likely to lead to the creation of insecure jobs should be redesigned.
Supporting disadvantaged workers
The following recommendations are designed to provide additional support for vulnerable workers through bolstering the Fair Work Ombudsman and better supporting migrant agricultural workers.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government provides increased resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate and penalise employers and companies for contraventions of workplace laws and obligations, drawing on the Ombudsman's enhanced powers provided under the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government accepts Recommendation 23 of the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee, which read:
'The Committee recommends that the Australian Government require all 417 and 462 visa holders, prior to arrival in Australia, to apply for an Australian tax file number. Information should be provided to 417 and 462 visa holders in their own language, on their rights and entitlements as migrant workers in Australian workplaces, and on how to take action if they are not being treated ethically and lawfully.'
Continuing the committee's work
While this committee was able to speak with a number of workers and employers, and consider a wide variety of evidence in relation to insecure work in Australia, we know that we have only scratched the surface of this issue.
There is still so much to understand about the changing nature of Australia's workforce in 2022 and beyond. The effects of the pandemic are only just beginning to be understood , and many industries are still in crisis.
It is critical that the Australian Senate continues to interrogate this issue; to speak to workers and their representatives; to hear from academics, NGOs and industry bodies; and to bring major private sector employers before its committees to explain their employment practices and conditions.
With more Australians than ever working multiple jobs, casual employment growing at a faster rate than it ever has in Australia's history, and the gig economy still growing and unregulated, the following recommendation is designed to ensure that the issue of job security remains squarely on the Senate's agenda.
The committee recommends that the Senate give consideration to the referral of an inquiry to the Education and Employment References Committee, examining:
The extent, growth and impact of insecure work in Australia, with specific regard to:
definitions and measures of insecure and precarious work, and the need to develop national measures, and a national data set, to understand changes over time;
the growth in insecure work since the 1970s and the impacts of government policies on this growth;
the impacts of the pandemic on the growth of insecure and precarious jobs, including those in the on-demand platform sector;
job insecurity among vulnerable workers, including migrants and temporary residents;
the experiences of workers in insecure jobs, their pay and conditions, and the impacts on their health, wellbeing, social connection and prosperity;
perspectives of employers on the use of casual, fixed-term contract, labour hire and platform workforce arrangements;
impacts on the level of casual and insecure work of the reforms made in 2021 to the Fair Work Act 2009 through the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021, particularly those concerning casual conversion;
the adequacy of existing legislative and regulatory regimes to address the challenges of insecure and precarious work; and
If such an inquiry were referred, that the committee or any subcommittee have power to consider and make use of the evidence and records of the former Select Committee on Job Security appointed during the 46th Parliament.
Senator Tony Sheldon