Contingent Working: Changing Attitudes of Workers…

ANALYSIS: Paul Chiswick

Paul Chiswick CXC Global

Paul is CXC Global’s Director of Corporate Solutions. Paul is an industry veteran with over 20 years business leadership experience gained within the Asian, Australian and European workforce solutions industry. Paul’s strategic expertise enables organisations around the globe to improve how they source, engage, pay and manage non-permanent workers. 

I read a report recently, from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. And yes, my focus is squarely on contingent working. Through the analysis of ABS data, they’ve come up with a new term to describe the changing dynamic of ‘work’ in Australia.

‘Insecure work’ is the label I speak of. It describes those workers in Australia who have chosen (or not) to work contract, gig or contingent, for another individual or organisation.

The report tells us that for the first time in recorded history, less than half of Australia’s working population have a permanent full-time job. The remaining workers, those lumped in the ‘insecure work’ category are, according to the report, missing out on benefits like paid holidays, super, sick leave and other entitlements.

In the five years to 2017, paid full-time employment (i.e. those with leave & other entitlements) dropped to 49.97%. Part-time work rose to 31.7% of employment – the highest ever – with the rest of the workforce made up of self-employed, casual workers and those deemed ‘underemployed’.

One of the noted fears of this dynamic, is that for the younger generation entering the workforce. A ‘precarious labour market’ despite the highest educational attainment over any previous group of Australians, is the message here.

And it’s here that I have an issue.

These stats don’t factor in the attitudinal shift that has taken (and is taking) place in this country. That is, the attitude of choice: increasingly we learn of the desire for workers (especially at the grassroots level) to take on part-time work. Or, requesting hours that are less than ‘standard’ (e.g. early or late starts or finishes) for example, so they can pursue passions or personal interests. Others are motivated by flexibility, not money. They seek a lifestyle that hands them the reigns of direction for their work (and personal) life. They don’t want to be dictated to.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible that new job market entrants, have been conditioned to a dynamic of ‘insecurity’ as, during their lifetime, some of the biggest economic and financial crises have occurred. Hard to know. What isn’t hard to know, is that this dynamic is absolutely real, right now.

From a recent AFR/BOSS event, it came to light that big business are struggling to keep up with worker’s need for choice and flexibility, both from a sourcing and a regulation perspective. HR leaders from organisations like Computershare, SAP Success Factors and others, have traditionally looked at ‘flexible’ working arrangements as short-term solutions. But now, as they struggle to fill roles, they’re shifting their own attitudes to embracing flexible and contract work as a ‘commercial necessity’. So much so, that they’re now openly saying this new dynamic is ‘employee driven’.

There are multiple challenges companies face in embracing this new world of work: the IR framework, internal structures, culture issues, and labour hire law changes to name a few (you can read more about those laws here, from a recent CXC Global event in Brisbane).

So my gripe here, isn’t about the change in today’s workforce. It’s the aforementioned report, and the blame it appears to heap upon the economic health of the employment dynamic in Australia, with an almost direct finger-point at employers and their treatment of workers. Also, it does imply a belief in the need to change existing labour laws for people in ‘insecure jobs’.

It’s an unfair angle to take. As put simply, it’s not contextual.

The report blames two key points for the changes and make-up of today’s workforce: inadequate quantity of work available, and a deterioration in the quality of work available. But when we call upon the experience of employers, the work is there. They’re just not organised enough (yet) to embrace flexible working: their HR, IR and internal culture houses are definitely not in order.

And of course, there’s the current Senate inquiry looking into the gig economy, online job platforms, and the likely need for protections of workers who land ‘gigs’ through these environments. As has happened in the UK, the expectation is that a government shake-up will create a new class of employee, such as ‘dependent contractors’.

Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s be equitable in our analysis of today’s job market. And embrace change, innovation and the needs of the individual. After all, people are most organisation’s greatest asset.