Insecure work: The New Normal

Most Australians know in their guts that it's pretty hard to find a traditional permanent job these days.  And now the statistics confirm it: less than half of employed Australians have one of those "standard" jobs.  And more than half experience one or more dimensions of insecurity: including part-time, irregular, casual, contractor, and marginally self-employed jobs.

In this commentary article published originally by Ten Daily, Our Director Dr. Jim Stanford summarises the findings of the Centre's recent report on "The Dimensions of Insecure Work."

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The Dimensions of Insecure Work

Less than half of employed Australians now hold a “standard” job: that is, a permanent full-time paid job with leave entitlements.  That’s the startling finding of a new report on the growing insecurity of work published by the Centre for Future Work.

The report, The Dimensions of Insecure Work: A Factbook, reviews eleven statistical indicators of the growth in employment insecurity over the last five years: including part-time work, short hours, underemployment, casual jobs, marginal self-employment, and jobs paid minimum wages under modern awards.

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The Importance of Public Services in Regional NSW

Jobs providing essential public services – like health care, education, safety, parks, and more – are a pillar of strength in Australia's labour market.  Public sector jobs are generally good jobs, with decent pay and more security than is typical of many private sector positions.  The strategic importance of public sector work is all the more visible in regional communities.  Job-creation in private businesses hasn't been adequate to meet the needs of most regional communities, as private activity is increasingly concentrated in the major cities.  So good jobs in schools, hospitals, and public administration are essential to the well-being of regional towns.  Public service workplaces in smaller communities also function as economic "anchors": keeping the local economy well grounded, and supporting many spin-off jobs in the private sector (in consumer goods and services, transportation, construction, and more).

Unfortunately, the positive economic potential of public sector work in regional communities has been undermined in recent years by misguided policies of fiscal austerity, which have placed more emphasis on cutting government spending than on supporting regional communities.  A new report from the Centre for Future Work documents the erosion of public sector work in regional communities in NSW, relative to overall labour market growth.  From 2011 to 2016 alone, this relative shrinkage was equivalent to the loss of 6000 public sector jobs in regional communities in the state.  Of the 20 communities which experienced the greatest loss of public sector jobs in NSW in that period, 18 were located in regional NSW.

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A Comprehensive and Realistic Strategy for More and Better Jobs

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has released a major policy paper outlining an ambitious, multi-faceted program to address the chronic shortage of work, and the steady erosion of job quality, in Australia.  The full paper, Jobs You Can Count On, is available on the ACTU's website.  It contains specific proposals to stimulate much stronger job-creation, reduce unemployment and underemployment, improve job quality (including through repairs to Australia's industrial relations system), and ensure that all communities (including traditionally marginalised populations like indigenous peoples, women, youth, and people with disability) have full access to the decent work opportunities that the plan would generate.

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Raising the Bar: Government Spending Power and Labour Standards

Australian governments could help to solve the problem of stagnating wages by better leveraging their own spending power in support of better wages and working conditions.  That’s the conclusion of new research from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute on the connection between government spending and procurement and working conditions across the economy.

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Wage Increases Beat Tax Cuts Any Day

The Coalition government’s 2018 budget features a plan to cut personal income taxes for many Australians over the next several years. The government claims it wants to reward lower- and middle-income wage-earners with tax savings.  However, the biggest personal tax reductions would not be experienced until 2022 and beyond (after at least two more federal elections).  And the biggest savings go to those with incomes over $200,000 per year (the richest 3 percent of tax-filers).

Our Briefing Note on the 2018 Budget explores the relationships between wages and taxes, and shows that working to reverse the recent unprecedented wage stagnation is the key to achieving ongoing improvements in living standards - not pre-election tweaks in the tax code.

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Austerity Will Make WA's Economic Challenges Even Worse

Western Australia’s recent budget deficit is the result – not the cause – of deteriorating economic conditions. And contrary to calls for fiscal austerity and public sector downsizing, being made in response to the emergence of fiscal deficits in WA, the report showed that budget deficits played a useful role in stabilizing the economy during times of economic downturn, and will automatically recede as the economy recovers.

That is the message of a new report on WA's fiscal choices, by Dr. Cameron Murray and Troy Henderson, published by the Centre for Future Work.

“In reality there should be no alarm about the WA state deficit. Deficits are acceptable, and positive, during periods of weak economic growth.” says the Australia Institute’s Senior Economist, Dr. Cameron Murray.

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Rebuilding the NSW Workers Compensation System

Workers compensation benefits in New South Wales were dramatically reduced in 2012 by a newly-elected state government, citing an alleged financial crisis in the system.  Benefit payments (adjusted for inflation) declined 25 percent in just five years – and some cuts are still being imposed on injured workers and their families (including some losing benefits entirely).  But even as injured workers suffered the consequences of these benefit cuts, the financial position of the workers compensation system suddenly transformed from “famine to feast”: the supposedly dire deficit which justified the cutbacks disappeared entirely within one year, and by mid-2013 the fund was already back in surplus.  The system’s total surplus now exceeds $4 billion.

This report reveals the artificial nature of the supposed crisis which justified the 2012 cuts, and highlights the continuing positive financial trends that are generating ever larger surpluses.  It proposes a five-year timetable for restoring benefits to injured workers in NSW, without increasing average premium levels or incurring funding deficits.

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Portable Training System Would Help to Address Staff Crisis in NDIS Services

A new proposal for a portable training system for disability support workers under the NDIS would help to ensure the program achieves its goal of delivering high-quality, individualised services to people with disabilities. The proposal is developed in a new report from the Centre for Future Work.

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Wages Crisis Has Obvious Solutions

Mainstream economists and conservative political leaders profess “surprise” at the historically slow pace of wage growth in Australia’s labour market. They claim that wages will start growing faster soon, in response to the normal “laws of supply and demand.”  This view ignores the importance of institutional and regulatory factors in determining wages and income distribution.  In fact, given the systematic efforts in recent decades to weaken wage-setting institutions (including minimum wages, the awards system, and collective bargaining), it is no surprise at all that wages have slowed to a crawl.  And the solutions to the problem are equally obvious: rebuild the power of those institutions, to support workers in winning a better share of the economic pie they produce.

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