A bad day’s work: joint action needed to secure worker’s rights

One of New Zealand’s most influential public policy figures is calling for a coordinated approach with Australia and other OECD countries to help stem the rise of casual jobs lacking proper benefits and decent pay.

Former NZ Attorney General and Labour Minister Professor Margaret Wilson has written a detailed account of the rise of precarious work arrangements in Australia and New Zealand for the Whitlam Institute’s ‘Perspectives’ series.

Professor Wilson says Australia and New Zealand currently rank fifth and fourth on the OECD scale of countries with the least employment protection laws, meaning precarious work – characterised by few benefits, low pay and a lack of access to collective bargaining – is becoming more common.

“An ideological shift is required to move governments to take co-responsibility with ‘the market’ to provide decent work and the protection for workers that will bring a halt to the growing inequality in the community,” she says.

Professor Wilson argues that since precarious work is identified with those who work on the margins of the labour market, such as women, young workers and older workers, we must look at how best to structure the policy agenda to protect those who are currently the most vulnerable.

“In our increasingly globalised world, individual employment situations such as casual work, part-time work and home workers may be assumed to have the legal status of an employment contract, but in reality none of the benefits accorded to such a contract,” Professor Wilson says.

“This is not a situation peculiar to Australia or New Zealand, it is a worldwide phenomenon – in fact a Global Union Research Network Report cites figures of a third of the workforce in Canada, the United States and Japan being characterised in precarious work.”

Professor Wilson says it is important to understand the role of the international institutions such as the OECD and the World Bank in driving the surge in precarious work, and to develop similar strategies to counter their influence.

“Global organisations such as the World Bank have led a strategy to redress growing unemployment, which resulted from the policies of globalisation and structural readjustment, by removing legal and institutional protection of workers,” she says.

“In contrast, the International Labor Organisation has provided a coherent response to ‘the jobs at any price’ mantra, and instead promotes opportunities for women and men to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”

Professor Wilson is confident that it is possible to address the inequality often present in precarious work with a policy approach that reimagines both the legal and ideological frameworks of employment.

“There should be a proper contestable process incorporating all interested, employers and workers, in the outcome,” she says.

The essay, ‘Precarious Work: The Need for a New Policy Framework’ is the latest to be published in the "Perspectives" series. The Whitlam Institute's "Perspectives" essay series is designed to encourage creative, even bold, thinking and occasionally new ways of looking at the challenges of the 21st Century in the hope that the enthusiasm and insights of these authors sparks further thought and debate among policy makers and the wider community.


11 February 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer

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