Job insecurity is at a crisis point in Australia. It is damaging the physical and mental health of Australian workers, and it is holding back Australian wages and the Australian economy.
That is the inescapable conclusion of the Senate Select Committee on Job Security, after 230 submissions, 26 public hearings, six in-camera sessions, three interim reports, and responses to almost 1000 questions on notice.
The evidence is indisputable. In 2018, the proportion of employed Australians in permanent full-time jobs with paid leave entitlements fell below 50 per cent for the first time.
The number and proportion of Australians forced to work multiple jobs is at an all‑time high.
Within a decade of launching in Australia, Uber has become the second largest employer in the country—although its workers are solely engaged as independent contractors, without access to basic rights including the national minimum wage, superannuation, or workers' compensation.
The scope of the job insecurity crisis in Australia is breathtaking. It affects men and women, older and younger workers, migrants and non-migrants, and white- and blue-collar workers alike. There is no segment of the Australian workforce insulated from insecure work.
The committee heard from aged and disability care workers on part-time contracts whose shifts fluctuate wildly from week to week but who are expected to remain constantly on-call. If they turn down shifts for any reason, their shifts can be cut.
We heard from academics who have been held on casual contracts for more than 20 years, even as they regularly worked full-time hours.
We heard from mining, manufacturing, and construction workers who have spent up to a decade employed by labour hire companies, on rates of pay 24 to 40 per cent less than their directly-employed peers doing the exact same work.
And we heard from temporary migrant workers forced into conditions thought to have been eradicated over a century ago, including gig workers risking their lives on Australian roads for just $6.67 an hour, and Pacific Islands workers lured into slave‑like conditions on Australian farms.
These are just a small sample of the first-hand experiences shared with this committee.
While the forms of insecure work are diverse, their impact on workers is consistent. The committee heard that job insecurity means perennial uncertainty and financial stress, and presents a real threat to physical and mental health.
Academic studies have found job insecurity increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 30 per cent, and the risk of depression by 60 per cent. The Australian Medical Association has identified job insecurity as a stressor associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease, and an increased likelihood of psychological distress and psychiatric morbidity.
Other studies submitted to the inquiry found that casual workers are seven times more likely, and fixed-term contract workers 11 times more likely, to report unwanted sexual advances at work. These findings echo the recent Respect@Work report, which similarly found that people in insecure or precarious work may be more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
This evidence demonstrates job insecurity is not just an industrial or workplace issue, it is a public health issue.
Job insecurity is also an economic issue. The committee does not believe it is a coincidence that the steep rise in job insecurity has occurred alongside eight years of record low wage growth.
Australians in insecure work often do not have the bargaining power to obtain wage increases. Through the use of labour hire intermediaries, gig platforms and dependent contracting, many insecure workers do not even have access to bargaining with their true employer.
But for every Amazon, Uber or Qantas driving down security, pay and conditions in their industries, there are many employers who want to do the right thing by their employees. It is essential the Australian Government enables those employers to operate on a fair playing field, and that is what this report's recommendations intend to achieve.
I would like to thank committee members, the secretariat, submitters, and witnesses for their invaluable contributions to this critically important work.
Most of all, I commend the courage and strength of every worker who shared their insecure work experience with the committee. I implore the Australian Government to listen to them.
Senator Tony Sheldon