2. Balancing Security and Flexibility

The rapid change in the economic environment in which businesses operate, the impact of economic cycles and the push for higher profits from shareholders is forcing many to adopt ‘flexible’ work practices which provide workers with little stability and security around their hours of work and income.  However, there needs to be a balance between flexibility and stability for workers. Flexibility can work for both employers and workers. But exploitative practices such as zero-hour contracts must be eliminated.

Issues to consider:

  • Clearer definitions of contractual relationships – especially which workers are employees and which are contractors – are required to ensure appropriate use.
  • Casual employment agreements have a place in modern industrial relations but they are not a substitute for fixed-term and permanent employment agreements. Permanent employment offers significant benefits both for businesses and employees and should be the preferred option.
  • Fixed-term and permanent employment agreements should include regular hours of work and exploitative arrangements like zero-hour contracts must not be allowed. 
  • Trialling new employees can provide opportunities for people to get a “foot in the door” but good faith and natural justice must be ensured to avoid exploitation.
  • Government ministries and departments must be sufficiently resourced to promote and support best practice in employment relations and in health and safety and to enforce employment laws. 

At the same time flexibility can provide significant benefits and we need to think more about how we can capture those.

Issues to consider:

  • Are there new ways we can organise people providing labour so employers can have the benefit of “on demand labour” without jeopardising employment or income security for the workers involved?
  • Can we reduce the costs on workers of working multiple jobs to sustain the demands for part-time work?
  • Can we make the process of transitioning between jobs smoother?
  • What support do those who take the route of self-employment and contracting need to do their jobs more effectively?

Worker participation in decisions related to their workplace, their company, their industry and their society is beneficial to everyone. Collective bargaining balances unequal power in employment relationships and enhances productivity. It also has significant benefits in the face of the changing nature of work but creates challenges that need to be overcome.

Issues to consider:

  • Legislative support is required to ensure that collective bargaining rights are maintained. Recent changes in legislation have undermined these rights.
  • People who have become contractors or self-employed don’t have access to collective bargaining. Those who have their own business could make greater use of industry organisations or cooperatives but there may be a need to extend the ability to collectively bargain to people in dependent contracting arrangements.
  • When people change jobs frequently the benefits of bargaining are swiftly lost and people are less inclined to participate. How do you tackle this where job changes are becoming more frequent?
  • With more small businesses and a lower proportion of unionisation in the workforce, opportunities to bargain collectively are more limited. What options are available to make the benefits of collective bargaining available to a larger number of workers?