Sunday 26 May 2024

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Contact 1800 772 679

The magazine of the Public Service Association of NSW and the Community and Public Sector Union (NSW Branch)

Insecure Work Blights Workers’ Lives

Too many people are employed in conditions of uncertainty.

It is a holding pattern too many PSA/CPSU NSW members are trapped in and want to leave: insecure employment.

“Insecure work is one of the biggest issues our union faces,” said General Secretary Stewart Little. “Many of our members have been placed in so called ‘temporary’ roles for years – even decades – at a time.”

Adverse consequences of insecure employment include being shut out of financial services such as home loans or credit.

“If a lender sees someone is working in an insecure manner, such as casual work or employment through an agency, they will be less likely to give them a loan,” said Mr Little.

Speaking at the 2022 PSA/CPSU NSW Women’s Conference, State Library member Adria Castellucci (pictured above right) said temporary contracts were the biggest issue facing members in cultural institutions such as the State Library and the Australian Museum, where she had been employed previously.

“Most of these roles should be permanent,” she said. “They are operational roles that have ongoing work attached to them. The problem is chronic underfunding and under-resourcing.

“It results in people being strung along with back-to-back contracts. And eventually, when people leave, there is no succession planning because one person with a lot of institutional knowledge gets sick of it and leaves.”

Ms Castellucci said sometimes when a contract expires, institutional knowledge also walks out the door with the temporary employee.

She said insecure work is also bad for workers’ mental health, with the pressure to constantly prove you are worthy of a new contract taking its toll.

Certain agencies are problem areas for over-reliance on insecure work.

Industrial Officer with the PSA/CPSU NSW Jessica Epps said TAFE is very keen on turning on and off a supply of insecure employees, particularly women.

“We have people working for two-year contracts, never sure if they will be rehired once it expires, or if the position will even exist after what seems like an endless series of restructures,” she said.

Similar issues face members employed in universities.

PSA Senior Vice President, Juliette Sizer, said tying positions in schools to enrolments has created a large number of workers in insecure roles. School Learning Support Officers, for example, are often employed on a year-by-year basis depending on how many children with specific needs are enrolled.

The State Government has proven that it can turn its back on excessive reliance on insecure workers.

Speaking at the conference, Prison Officers Vocational Branch Secretary Natalie Howes (pictured above left) said casualisation was introduced in the Correctives system “as an incentive to privatise Parklea, Cessnock and Court Escorts”. Ms Howes said once the privatisation process, which saw Parklea move to a commercial operator, was over, the proportion of casual Officers has declined, with more staff being given full-time, permanent work.

Ms Castellucci said for “prestige” employers, such as cultural institutions use the allure of working for them to convince people to remain in temporary roles. In addition, some positions, such as Curators, don’t have a lot of other employers they can go work for, so they are more likely to grudgingly accept insecure roles.  

When a contract expires, institutional knowledge walks out the door with the employee

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