Change the rules and change the system also

March 22, 2018
The spread of precarious work, such as labour hire, poses a challenge for unions.

Recently released labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics overwhelming shows that those successful in gaining fulltime employment are those who are already employed, rather than young people entering paid employment or those returning to work after an absence.

Over the previous 12 months, a monthly average of 82,640 people became unemployed, while at the same time about 117,500 unemployed people got jobs.

Over the same 12 months, nearly half a million people left the paid labour force due to retirement, raising children, going back to education, health or other reasons, or entered the labour force after leaving school or higher education, or returned to work after raising children.

While there is an age gap in employment opportunities, there is also a gender gap.

Comparing 2011 and 2016 figures, women are less likely to be unemployed but more likely to have left the labour force altogether.

The data suggests the increase in part-time employment has mostly been for those newly entering the labour force and, while unemployment is decreasing, underemployment is still increasing due to accelerated casualisation across nearly all sectors and industries, as well as the rise of the gig economy.

Precarious work and underemployment are increasing the stress on working people. Precarious work is no longer confined to the traditionally casualised industries of hospitality and retail, but is becoming increasingly common in areas that were once relied upon for secure part-time or full-time employment, such as the health sector.

It is also increasingly common for workers to rely on labour hire agencies, where they piece together hours, rather than being directly employed by the company or organisation for whom they are providing labour.

This has left workers open to exploitation, wage theft and the loss of conditions that had only been won through struggle.

This is the modern day work force and it poses a challenge to unions. How can unions organise workers who are sitting at home waiting for an app notification to say that they have a shift at work?

The Australian Council of Trades Unions launched a campaign to “Change the Rules” last year. It has recently outlined which rules need to be changed, and what they should be changed to, for a more equitable footing for workers.

While it is clear that industrial law in this country only benefits the bosses who profit from wage theft and exploitation, we need to do more than just change the rules: we need to change the system.

To do that we need to rebuild the strength of the union movement with grassroots organising, direct actions, mobilising on the streets and sustained organising in work places.

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