How can we meet the financial security needs of people in casual or flexible work?

What’s the problem?

The traditional working week and the traditional job may become a thing of the past for many Australian workers. Greater flexibility can be a good thing, especially where the availability of part-time work enables people to balance work with family responsibilities, education, or semi-retirement.

Alt text It can also be great for work-life balance. However, increased employment flexibility can also translate into the reduced security of employment and income for many workers. This is increasingly likely as the competition for jobs goes global, with jobs and organisations becoming increasingly fluid as people move from project to project and place to place in the search for work.

The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations suggests that “economic models and political systems built upon a desire for full employment may require revision” . They cite evidence of movement “towards a more fluid employment relationship”, whereby “people are holding portfolios of activities, including paid employment, unpaid employment such as internships or volunteering, self-employment, and caring for children or the elderly” .

Seven things you need to know

  • In 2030, technology is predicted to be pervasive in the workplace and the global labour market highly competitive.

  • According to the ABS, there has been a gradual, long-term trend away from 'standard' full-time jobs to part-time work. For example, the proportion of employed people who worked part time increased from 16% in 1979 to 29% in 2009.

  • While part-time work tends to be more prevalent among women, its increase over the past 30 years has been evident for both men and women. The proportion of employed women working part time increased from 34% in 1979 to 45% in 2009, compared to 5% and 16%, respectively, for men.

  • The independent workforce is growing, with an estimated 4 million Australians engaging in ‘freelance’ employment in 2015.

  • A 2014 survey by freelance marketplace Elance-oDesk found that approximately 30 per cent of the Australian workforce undertook some sort of freelance work. If correct, this could account for up to around $51 billion in earnings.

  • The majority of freelancers start by choice - driven by the desire for greater flexibility and freedom. This has been found to be particularly important for Gen X and workers with children under 18.

  • Full time work isn’t the answer for the majority of people who work part time. Many do not want to work more hours, or would not be available to work more hours even if the extra hours were available. In 2009, only a quarter (25%) of all part-time workers were classed as ‘underemployed’

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