Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

Insecure work creates vulnerability and increases inequality Analysis

Insecure work creates vulnerability and increases inequality

VCOSS recently provided a submission to the Victorian inquiry into the labour hire industry and insecure work.

The nature of jobs has changed over the last 25 years, with many Victorians now employed in insecure work. People in insecure employment have less protection from termination, less access to benefits and entitlements, and receive lower pay.[1] As a result, insecure work can create vulnerability and increase inequality by contributing to financial stress, housing instability, poor health and wellbeing, reduced chances of career progression and professional development, and greater risk of unemployment.

Insecure work affects different people in different ways. Some forms of insecure work, such as casual or seasonal work, may suit certain people at certain times in their lives, while others may pursue insecure forms of work as a pathway to more permanent employment. However, many vulnerable people enter and remain in insecure work because they have few opportunities to gain stable employment.[2] People experiencing disadvantage are more likely to face insecure work for longer periods than other workers, as well as experiencing higher rates of underemployment, unemployment, and long-term unemployment than other Victorians. This includes vulnerable young people, Aboriginal[3] people, people with disability, single parents, older people, women, people with low levels of education, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, from rural, regional, outer suburban, or low socioeconomic communities, and those with a history of contact with the justice system.

The VCOSS submission to the Victorian inquiry into the labour hire industry and insecure work outlines the nature and effects of insecure employment on vulnerable people and their families. The submission also recommends actions the state government can take to reduce the barriers people face to gaining secure work along with strategies to create more secure jobs for people experiencing disadvantage.

The impact of insecure work

Insecure employment can lead to financial stress, insecurity and greater risk of poverty for workers and their families, as a result of low-income from low hourly pay or inadequate hours of work, or irregular and fluctuating income from week to week.  Low pay makes it difficult to cover essential costs and often leaves people without a financial savings as protection from unexpected costs or events.  Irregular and uncertain income can also make it harder for workers to plan their spending and save money, making them more financially vulnerable if they experience an emergency or family crisis, such as illness.[4] This is compounded by the lack of access to paid leave arrangements, with workers forced to forgo income if they take time off due to illness or caring responsibilities.

While insecure work may be a stepping-stone into stable employment for some workers it does not provide a pathway into a secure job  and workers can find themselves trapped, “cycling between temporary positions and unemployment for many years”. [5]  People in insecure work are also less likely to receive training from their employer than full-time or permanent employees[6] further limiting their future employment prospects and career development.

Due to employment uncertainty, these workers are more likely to experience difficulty obtaining home loans or accommodation in the private rental market. [7] Where they are able to obtain housing, their low or irregular pay means they can experience difficulties meeting their housing payments, [8] and be at risk of facing eviction in private rentals or facing foreclose if they hold a mortgage. Insecure work can also create anxiety and stress, reducing the health and wellbeing of people and their families. It can be as detrimental for people’s health as periods of unemployment.[9]

Barriers to gaining secure employment

While some people may engage in insecure work arrangements by choice, many enter these arrangements due to lack of alternative employment options, rather than a preference for temporary or insecure work.  This may include requiring flexible employment arrangements unavailable in more stable employment, having limited education, skills, or work experience, or experiencing other barriers to employment such as employer discrimination.

The state government can help to reduce the barriers people face to gaining secure work by making the education and training system accessible to all learners to so that they have a strong educational basis for which to enter the workforce or to engage in further education and training and creating a stronger alignment between the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system and local employment opportunities to enhance people’s employment opportunities.

The government can also support employers to adopt flexible work practices to help people balance their work and life commitments, while gaining the security of more permanent employment, and encourage workplace diversity to provide more secure employment opportunities for vulnerable workers.

This could be combined with strategies to create more secure jobs for people experiencing disadvantage, including investing in social enterprises, growing industries that have the potential to employ large numbers of vulnerable people, implementing public sector targets for equity groups and expanding social procurement requirements on government contracts to create employment opportunities for people experiencing disadvantage.

Job insecurity and unemployment is often interrelated with other form of disadvantage.  Helping vulnerable people gain more stable employment therefore requires a holistic response, including tackling socioeconomic disadvantage and the barriers to secure employment people face.

[1] OECD, OECD Employment Outlook 2014, OECD Publishing, 2014,

[2] Ibid., p.151.

[3] The term ‘Aboriginal’ is used in this blog to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

[4] Australian Council of Social Service, Submission to Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia, ACOSS Paper 181, July 2012.

[5] OECD, op. cit. p, 182.

[6] I Watson, Contented casuals in inferior jobs? Reassessing casual employment in Australia, working paper 94, Australian Centre of Industrial Relations Research and Training, University of Sydney, 2004, p.1; OECD, OECD Employment Outlook 2014, OECD Publishing, 2014.

[7] Lives on Hold, Unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce: Independent inquiry into Insecure work, commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, 2012, p. 20.

[8] I Campbell, S Parkinson  and G Wood, Underemployment and housing insecurity: an empirical analysis of HILDA data, for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute at RMIT University, 2014.

[9] J Benach and C Muntaner, ‘Precarious employment and health: developing a research agenda’, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2007, pp.276-277.