Precarious work is typically non-permanent, temporary, casual, insecure and contingent. Workers in these jobs are often not covered by labour law and social security protections. Taking action against precarious work is the focus of the IMF Central Committee in 2007. This spotlight poses key questions for affiliates on the issue.
Taking global action against precarious work is the focus of the IMF Central Committee debate in November, 2007. To prepare for the debate, affiliates are being encouraged to consider the issue of precarious work and, where possible, develop regional positions and inputs on taking action against precarious work in advance of the meeting.
Precarious work is typically non-permanent, temporary, casual, insecure and contingent. Workers in these jobs are often not covered by labour law and social security protections. Precarious work is caused by employment practices designed to maximize employer profits and flexibility and to shift risks onto workers. In highly-industrialised countries full-time jobs are being replaced by precarious jobs, while in developing countries precarious work has always been the norm.
Employment practices often associated with precarious work include the following:
- Direct hire on temporary labour contracts,
- Hiring in labour via employment agencies or labour brokers,
- Contracting out functions to other companies,
- Personal labour contracts as bogus ‘self-employed' workers,
- Abusive probationary periods,
- Disguised employment training contracts,
- On call / daily hire,
- Illegal or involuntary part-time work, and
Precarious work is an increasing problem on every continent, undermining wages and conditions of work and threatening to divide working people. It flourishes wherever there is a labour surplus and workers are driven to accept work at any cost - conditions that exist in many, if not most, parts of the world today.
The rapid increase in precarious work is being driven both by corporations and governments. Across the world, national labour laws are being amended to better enable employers to create yet more precarious jobs at the expense of stable employment. In 2006, the Australian government introduced new labour laws that immediately plunged millions of workers into precarious employment by taking away their right to protection from unfair dismissal. The laws also encourage contract and temporary work.
Now the European Union has launched a consultation paper promoting ‘flexicurity', the idea that employment growth is stimulated when employment protections such as unfair dismissal laws are reduced and casual employment is increased. UK affiliate Amicus has responded by pointing out the negative impact that Britain's weak labour laws have had on manufacturing jobs. General Secretary Derek Simpson says that, "well paid secure jobs can only be protected by stronger employment laws than we currently have in the UK."
Precarious work and women
Precarious work has a disproportionate impact on women workers. Women are overrepresented in precarious work throughout the world. Access to full-time permanent jobs for women has always been low and is reducing further.
- In Australia one in three women workers are non-permanent, paid 21 per cent less than permanent workers and have no access to holiday leave, sick leave or public holidays;
- In Canada 40 per cent of women's jobs are considered non-standard, or precarious, employment; and
- In Japan about 30 per cent of metal workers are atypical or contract workers and women form a high proportion of such workers.
Increasingly precarious employment compounds existing gender discrimination. Working time insecurity creates enormous difficulties for women with child care responsibilities. For some women, secure part-time work with predictable hours may be the most desirable employment option, yet most part-time work is temporary and the availability of permanent part-time work is decreasing.
Precarious work makes a large contribution to the pay gap between men and women. In Japan, women part-time workers earn a mere 54.3 percent of the hourly wage of regular women workers, a gap which has widened in the last decade. In Korea, 69 per cent of women workers are precariously employed, known as irregular workers. In 2005, irregular women workers in Korea earned 43 per cent of the salaries of the regular male workers.
Not only are women in precarious employment paid less than their male, full-time counterparts, the majority of such women are not covered by collective agreements that could be used to address pay inequalities. The nature of their employment also excludes them from the reach of equal pay legislation designed to reduce the gender pay gap.
The additional unequal burden that is placed on women in respect of childcare, household work and other caring responsibilities mean that their children, families and communities also suffer the consequences of their precarious work. This is further compounded by governments reducing social services such as childcare and health care, which provide support principally to women in their caring roles.
In a number of countries trade unions have been fighting against the trend of precarious work. International solidarity can and should play a role in trade union strategies to tackle the issue.
IMF affiliates are encouraged to come forward with proposals for action against precarious work for consideration at the IMF Central Committee 2007. These proposals should reach the IMF Secretariat no later than 21 September 2007.Mar 20, 2007 – Alex Ivanou