You, me, and everybody’s got a part-time job
There’s a dark undercurrent to the unexpectedly positive April employment figures released just before noon today.
On the face of it, it’s terriffic news that there are 15,500 more Australians in the workforce in April than in March. That’s brings our total workforce to 11.5 million, and knocks the unemployment rate two percentage points down to 4.9 per cent. And the sun’s shining today and it feels like summer on the eastern seaboard. Good times.
Now for the bad news. As the ABS notes, the increase in employment was driven entirely by increased part-time employment. A whopping 26,000 extra part-time workers entered the workforce in April. Meanwhile, 10,500 full-time positions were lost.
So here’s where things stand now. Of the 11.5 million Australians in work, around eight million of us are full-timers while 3.5 million are part-timers. But the gap between the two is narrowing daily, and it’s conceivable that more Australians could be in part-time work than full-time work by the end of the decade.
This is less than ideal. Not everyone is blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit, and despite the universal Australian distrust of people in power, many of us secretly love working for a boss who has to bear the brunt of the tough decisions.
Full-time work gives (or once gave) the glorious certainty (or near certainty) of income and tenure. Part-time work does not. As ACTU chief Ged Kearney pointed on Monday in her exclusive Punch column:
Millions of people are in casual jobs and contract or labour hire work. On top of low wages, and a lack of conditions like sick leave and holiday pay, there is a huge amount of uncertainty about when and how much people will work.
It is difficult to feel in control of life, or on top of expenses, when jobs are so insecure. It is very difficult to plan ahead and pay a 20-year mortgage on a string of 3-month contracts.
When a quarter of workers have no sick leave or carers leave and need to make their savings stretch to cover an unexpected illness, it’s hard for them to ever feel secure about paying rent and bills.
The government will no doubt hang its hat on today’s 4.9 per cent unemployment figures. In recent times, New Zealand has hovered around 6.5 per cent, Canada 7.5 per cent, the UK 8 per cent and the USA 9 per cent. We’re the employment kings of the English-speaking world.
The question is, what sort of employment landscape have we created?
When John Howard championed his battlers in the mid 1990s, you always had in mind, say, a plumber who could suddenly earn $100k or more a year, freed as he was from his soulless $60k a year job with Drains r Us.
Today, contract work appears to be becoming a burden rather than a liberation for workers, many of whom are desperate for secure work and all the life benefits it entails. Stats show that’s true across both the private and public sectors.
It’s not just workers themselves or their families affected by uncertainty of tenure. My own children have attended primary schools where teachers nicked off after a term, or even mid-term, when they secured an elusive full-time position elsewhere.
Quite frankly, you’d swap all the BER projects in Australia for teachers who were committed to their classes for the full year, and an employment system which encouraged that.
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