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Australia's casual workforce remained relatively stable over the past decade, according to a new Productivity Commission paper that analyses forms of employment between 2001 and 2011. It found that casual and fixed term employees were no more prevalent at the end of the decade than at the start.
Numbers are said to have declined for agency workers, known as labour hire workers in Australia. “Labour hire workers probably became less prevalent and it is likely that the workforce share of independent contractors also fell marginally,” the report states.
Permanent full-time and part-time staff made up 60% of the workforce in 2011. Casual employees and the self-employed accounted for around 20% each in the year. Between 2001 and 2011, the casual workforce rose from 1.79 million to 2.25 million. The number of permanent workers rose at a faster rate, from 5.36 million to 7.02 million in the same period.
The report found the local job market improved in the ten-year period. Employment grew more rapidly in the decade to 2011 than in the preceding two decades. A rise in the share of higher-skilled jobs is linked to the increased workforce share of permanent employees.
But the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) saw the findings in a different light and condemned the fact that millions of Australians are stuck in “insecure work”.
ACTU president Ged Kearney said: “When we talk about insecure work, we are not just talking about casual work, although that is a big part of it, we are talking about work through labour hire companies, short-term contracts and employees forced to become independent contractors to get a job.
“The lack of job and income security experienced by millions of Australians is a long-term, systemic problem. It affects their ability to take out a mortgage and plan for the future. It is pushing us closer to a US-style working poor and the growth of a class of workers who are under-skilled and on the periphery of the economy.”
He said that “insecure work is a trap rather than a bridge to permanent employment. It is not something they have chosen, it is something they’ve had to accept to get a job.”