A New Work Order
Reduced hours, such as part-time work, can be a means of flexibility allowing for greater work-life balance, however, some scholars suggest that individuals are disadvantaged by such working arrangements. Almost one third of Australia’s workforce is comprised of contract or casual workers. For these individuals, their future economic security, leave entitlements and protection from organisational misconduct, such as unfair dismissal, is either seriously compromised or non-existent. The casualisation of work has sparked considerable debate, where this phenomenon could be seen either as a threat to employment stability and financial security, or more positively as an opportunity to achieve work-life balance.
Amongst the opposing arguments, scholars assert that casualisation limits occupational mobility, confining workers to roles which are less skilled and devoid of organisational benefits and incentives, such as career development and training. Furthermore, this type work is seen as precarious and economically and socially unsustainable. Standing suggests that, relatively, only a small number of workers benefit from casual or contract work, and these may include the highly skilled contractors who are juggling multiple assignments, or those with strategic intentions, such as university students. McGann’s study echoed these judgments, where independent contract workers reported benefits from their contracting arrangements, offering employment flexibility by facilitating the development of their ambitions outside of work, and by providing greater control in balancing work with family commitments. These were typically highly skilled professionals or those where their skills were in high demand. McGann suggests that these type of workers were almost certainly guaranteed future work – or they also had a partner who was the main source of income. Standing characterises this cohort of workers as the “grinners”, and the former cohort of workers – who are disadvantaged by work casualisation – as the “groaners”.
One concern is that casualisation of work affects lives outside of work, impinging on workers’ agency, and affecting their ability to shape or change the world around them. “Ongoing employment uncertainty and job insecurity prevents [workers] from taking control of their life and from realising their non-work related goals and ambitions”. McGann illustrated that workers in insecure working arrangements regularly demonstrated increased levels of anxiety and stress in relation to meeting financial obligations, and felt excluded from pursuing financial benefits such as a loans, which are typically reserved for those with a more secure employment status. McGann highlights that work flexibility for these workers was not seen as a benefit or facilitator of work/life balance, but more a barrier to a more rewarding and secure life, thus negatively impacting their subjectivity and self-esteem.
The transformation of the workforce is evidently shifting towards a shrinking stratum of privileged, core workers, characterised by permanent employment and higher salaries; yet a burgeoning contingent of periphery workers who are typically casual labourers, temporary or contract workers. The disintegration of stable, permanent employment characterises the experiences of modern workers as dark and vulnerable, plagued with insecurity, a loss of subjectivity and misplaced identities. Yet, sadly, this form of flexibility is forecast as the dominant employment model of the future!