The case for greater protection of permanent jobs

10 August, 2020

With less than half of Australia’s 12.5 million workers employed in a permanent, full-time job with leave entitlements, the need to address insecure work has never been greater.

Insecure work strikes at the heart of what employment in the Australian workforce should mean: the right to a job you can count on.

The current global pandemic has only served to exacerbate the impact insecure work has on the financial wellbeing and employment security of workers.

While some employees are satisfied with casual, part-time or contract work, many workers are trapped in seemingly endless cycles of rolling fixed-term contracts or underemployment.

Job insecurity is “a well-established risk factor” for both mental and physical health issues, according to Beyond Blue.

Stable workforce participation is central to workers attaining a defined social role, identity, purpose and sense of social inclusion, the charity states.

The current levels of insecure work are placing many Australian workers at risk of never attaining a permanent and secure place in the workforce.

Members speak out about the impacts of insecure work

Insecure work was a key theme of the recently concluded Queensland Catholic schools collective bargaining campaign.

During the campaign, members shared their personal experiences of insecure work through our union’s confidential online forum.

One member – a classroom teacher employed on various fixed-term contracts with the same employer for seven years – spoke about the hardship she experienced as a result of insecure work.

“I am now a single mum trying to meet my bills and pay school fees for my son,” the member wrote.

“It is difficult to buy a house because there is no job security from one year to the next.

“Then that time of year comes around again when jobs start getting advertised and we have to reapply for our jobs and re-interview repeatedly.

“It is [a] very stressful, upsetting and emotional experience.

“It is scary because we don’t know where we stand.

“This year will be my sixth time of having to go through this process while permanent members on staff have none of these stresses and don’t understand how awful it is.

“Contract teachers have to prove themselves over and over again,” she said.

Other members spoke of applying for 30 positions each year just in case their contract was not renewed, being unable to obtain home loans, delaying starting their family and feeling professionally devalued by ongoing contract positions.

New agreement delivers greater protections

The new collective agreements for Queensland Catholic schools contain important protections for permanent jobs and limit the use of fixed-term contracts to only genuine short-term needs.

The renewed ‘test’ for the use of fixed-term contracts will significantly limit their use in Queensland Catholic schools.

Employers are also required to review all contracts annually to identify any positions that should be made permanent.

The new fixed-term contract provision was only secured due to the strength of IEUA-QNT members during the negotiations – and this strength will be vital to ensuring it is implemented in schools.

Any members who would like to discuss their fixed-term contract arrangements in light of this new entitlement or access member-only fact sheets, templates and resources should contact their IEUA-QNT organiser for support.

The new protections for continuing positions in Queensland Catholic schools have set a benchmark our union will be fighting to see extended to other sectors.

When can fixed-term contracts be used?

Fixed-term contracts can only be used in clearly identified circumstances where there is a short-term need such as:

  • Replacing another employee on leave.
  • Temporary changes caused by a specific short-term factor.
  • Special projects with a specified end date.
  • Short-term funding of a specific position.

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