Robyn Emerson

Australia’s Temporary Labour Rates Second Highest in World

Australia now has the second highest percentage of temporary workers anywhere in the world with 3.8 per cent of our total working population employed on a temporary basis.

The increased prevalence of enterprise bargaining in the workforce, a decline in the proportion of firms with “closed union shops” and a growth in the use of human resource firms have all been among the factors that have led to a huge increase in the propensity for employers to use temporary labour*.

This trend is mirrored across the world, according to an international study conducted by Page Personnel in 2013, which found three in five of all professionals and one in three employers expected to see a rise in the need for temporary employment in the future.

According to the study, employees in Australia have the most positive attitude towards temporary employment across the 17 countries surveyed, with over 75 per cent of temporary employees satisfied with their employment.

Dominic Williams, a data analyst working on a temporary labour contract for a large aged care provider, sees many personal benefits in being employed on contract at short notice.

“I had just returned from overseas and though I had many years experience in the field, I realised there were many more interesting and challenging jobs in the industry than I was likely to find in a short period of time.”

For Mr Williams, as for many others working on a temporary contract basis, there are ongoing benefits for their future employment. Also being employed on contract allows them to sample the company’s working conditions while they build their professional network and gain valuable experience without having to commit to permanent employment.

“For me there have been several positives from the contract arrangement,” Mr Williams says.

“Most significant among these has been the opportunity to make myself valuable to an organisation which I admire for the good working conditions it provides its staff.”

Flexibility is also the main reason cited by employers for their use of temporary and contract labour. They see value in answering short term labour needs and benefits in being able to identify candidates for long term positions without having to employ workers permanently. Being able to employ temporary labour also means employers can bring additional expertise to their business as they need it in a variable economic climate.

Rising competitive pressures, trade liberalisation and globalisation puts increasing pressures on organisations to be competitive and to manage their labour force in a cost effective manner.

As the Adecco Groups’ Temporary Labour Report says: “Temporary workforce solutions remain an important factor in sustaining a competitive advantage, especially in times of economic uncertainty.” However, times of economic uncertainty can also mean more people are having to work on lowly paid or unpaid agreements just to gain a foothold in the job market.

In a report commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman, Professor Ian Stewart says unpaid work is growing as a result of an oversupply of graduates for a shrinking pool of jobs.

“It is no longer actors, photographers or journalists volunteering free labour in the hope it will get them a job – young law graduates are now also working for nothing.” It appears the age of having a job for life is coming to an end in the Australian workforce.

Robyn Emerson is a director in qualitative research at Economic and Market Development Advisors.

* Clarification: “temporary labour” refers to those employed by a third-party employment agency who work in another organisation. They are part of a larger group in “insecure employment”, which includes anyone who is self-employed or works part time or as a contractor.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald – click here to view