Flat White

Why the war on ‘the gig economy’ when in reality ‘permanency’ is insecurity?

9 December 2020

2:07 PM

9 December 2020

2:07 PM

The demand by Australian unions to turn, it seems, all jobs into ‘permanent’ has been mugged in the blink of Covid eye reality. The ACTU’s campaign against ‘insecure work’ is illogical.     

When planes can’t fly, ‘permanent’ airline jobs also ‘fly. Empty hotels mean an emptying out of permanent hospitality jobs. When cruise ships no longer cruise, the impermanency of every ship job hits home. Economic reality determines everything. Like it or not. 

The ACTU’s claim that ‘insecure workers’ are more likely to face unemployment is just plain wrong. No job typepermanent, casual, part-time or contractescaped the Covid mugging. 

Even the Victorian government, which wants to make self-employment illegal, has met its Covid brick wall of truth.  

In its second attempt to run hotel quarantine for overseas travellers the Andrews government needs doctors at the hotels 24/7. In its recruitment drive, it said the doctors would have to work exclusively at the hotels and nowhere else. But it could not get the doctors. 

Doctors are typical ‘insecure workers, by any ACTU or academic research definition. The larger percentage of GPs have casual or parttime employment, or most often contract as self-employed. They work in multiple health settings. They have to as a requirement of professional development. The wider their experience, the greater their acquired medical skills. They also need to move around for income. Health settings are dynamic responders to patient needs. Doctors work where the patients are. Simple reality.  

Unable to tie doctors to its hotel quarantine work ‘permanency’ requirement, the government had to bend. Now doctors are able to work at the quarantine hotels and other health settings.   

It seems this rigid Dan Andrews government idea of ‘work’ has a pattern. During Covid lockdown it allowed council gardeners to work, but not Jims Mowing people. It was okay to garden if you worked for one ‘government employer’, but not okay if you had many clients where you did exactly the same type of work. Andrews didn’t see common sense in the case of gardeners but has been forced to face reality with doctors. 

The illogicality of the ACTU and Victorian Labor’s joint stance extends to statistics. Both portray insecure work as a growing ‘problem.’ That is falseRecent analysis from University of Melbourne Professor Mark Wooden confirms the following.  

Casual employment has remained at around 20 per cent of the workforce for 20 years. Labour hire and gig work is small, at less than 5 per cent of the workforce. Self-employment has sat at around 2.1 million people but declined slightly as a workforce percentage to around 17 per cent over the last 15 years or so.  

What’s also illogical in the ACTU/Andrews stance is the complaint about casual employees lack of access to ‘entitlements’ such as holiday pay. This is plain nonsense.  

Casuals get paid 25 per cent plus more than permanents to make up for holidays and so on. Casuals receive holiday pay built into their hourly pay. Permanents get paid less upfront and get paid the money when they take holidays. In fact, casuals end up with more money than permanents because fulltime ‘entitlements’ usually only add about 19 per cent to their pay. Casuals can receive up to 6 per cent more than permanents.  

The Federal government’s proposed new workplace laws will allow casuals to access permanent parttime work after 12 months.  They will allow parttimers to work extra hours. The ACTU continues to find problems even under these reforms.  

Even the economic ‘war’ with China has taught Australia that there is no such thing as ‘permanent.  We now are fully aware that reliance on permanency of trade with China or any one big national market is massively risky. Trade security is found in having a wide range of trading partners. It’s the same with work for individuals. Having a range of work and income sources is safer than relying on one ‘permanent’ job. In reality, permanency’ is insecurity. 

Too often the ACTU/Andrews Labor agenda falls apart in the face of the facts. On this issue their ‘anti-insecurity’ agenda looks like a policy solution searching for a policy problem that doesn’t exist.  

Ken Phillips is Executive Director of Self Employed Australia 

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