Get used to a different way of working
Fluid work practices give people control over their destiny, not job insecurity.
We expect economic and labour market policies to foster job security. But many factors impinge on job security.
Every generation experiences change in how work is performed. Today, ubiquitous information technology is transforming how we work. Socially, the characteristics of an integrated 24/7 lifestyle are becoming more common.
Business has to be flexible and capable of adapting to new circumstances. Failure to adapt will likely spell the demise of the business. Workers should recognise that work practices need to be flexible to ensure the firm is productive and competitive.
It is a fact that in 2012 Australian workers cannot be guaranteed job security. At the same time, most can look forward to regular employment throughout their working lives.
The pace of change affecting businesses impacts on how we work. Independent contracting and labour hire have become more widespread. Casual and fixed-term employment are entrenched modes of work. It is estimated that more than 4 million people, about 40 per cent of Australian workers, are engaged in these employment categories. Some lament the spread of these work categories. The ACTU, for example, yearns for a return to the 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, permanent employment model. It has instigated a campaign to rein in what it labels ''insecure employment''.
Opponents of more flexible work options presume they are basically exploitative. This is far from the reality and is a view not shared by many workers. Workers in most industries embrace different modes of work. It has underpinned our strong jobs and incomes growth.
Many Australians embrace the freedom offered by contracting and labour hire. It affords them independence and control over their own destiny. It allows them the opportunity to grow a business and directly benefit from their skills and knowledge. They place a premium on a satisfactory balance between work and private life. Careers are often pursued jointly with partners to maximise family and job potential.
Many workers also choose casual employment. It is often a pathway to permanent employment for young workers. An ACTU survey shows that 50 per cent of casual workers do not want to change to permanent employment.
Businesses in a variety of industries have to deal with peaks, troughs and seasonal variations in operating conditions. The managing of such demands through a permanent workforce is untenable.
Flexible work arrangements will become increasingly relevant in keeping older workers in gainful employment. This is an important labour market policy issue as we start to deal with the consequences of our ageing population profile.
So most workers understand the changes taking place in the workplace and appreciate the opportunities offered by technology. They comprehend the need for businesses to be adaptable and competitive. The firms with the best prospects are those where the management and workers have a shared understanding of the challenges facing the business and the aspirations of its employees.
The opponents of flexible work options massively overstate their unpalatable features. Exploitation occurs under every labour market model. The regulatory system should ensure exploitation is deterred and penalised.
The opponents of flexible employment call for controls to limit its attraction. The ACTU supports this position to justify even more workplace regulation. Its proposals to limit flexible employment would involve punitive taxes, additional obligations on employers, union consent before engaging contractors, new agreement clauses facilitating transfer to permanent employment and secure employment orders by Fair Work Australia.
It is a difficult balancing act for governments to devise workplace regulations that facilitate job security. The Gillard government's fair work system has reimposed a regulatory burden akin to the 1980s. Employer decisions to recruit staff are now influenced by the risks associated with unfair dismissal, adverse action claims and termination payment exposures. Firms have been placed into administration because of unsustainable liabilities arising from termination payment obligations.
The Gillard regime is unsuited to the workplaces of 2012. To impose more regulation as the ACTU proposes would be to destroy jobs, productivity and investment. Our labour market experience would mirror the persistent high unemployment of the failing European economies.
Permanent employment would become the privilege of a few. Unemployment and underemployment would rise. Young job seekers would be hard hit. More jobs would move offshore to flexible labour markets.
Australians value choice, freedom, independence, individuality and having a go. They accept the risks of relying on reward directly linked to effort.
Flexible work arrangements reflect a dynamic modern labour market. They are crucial to investment and future job security.