Casual Labour: A stepping stone to something better or part of an underclass

by David Richardson

This paper responds to the invitation by the Brian Howe inquiry set up to examine insecure work and follows the release of the options paper, “The future of work in Australia: Dealing with insecurity and risk.”

The consultation document makes it clear that the casualisation of the workforce is a consequence of the increasing flexibility built into the labour market at the initiative of employers/business and the general predisposition for ”deregulation’ among policy-makers.

There is a widespread view that labour market flexibility is essential for high employment and productivity growth. Although there has been a good deal of work in Australia regarding the nature and extent of casual work some points have been under-played in this discussion. In particular, as explained below, there is an important gap between two groups of workers in Australia, those in regular’ employment who experience a good deal of stability in their employment patterns and the second group who appear to have a more marginal attachment to the workforce. The employment arrangements for this second group are quite unstable and their experience is one of continuous movement into and out of the various employment categories, including long spells out of the workforce entirely.

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