The full-time permanent job is rapidly disappearing.
For the first recorded time less than half of all working Australians (49.97 per cent) have full-time jobs with leave entitlements.
The “casual” full-time workforce (those without leave entitlements) grew by 38 per cent between 2009 and 2017, while part-time work comprises 31.7 per cent of employees – also a new high.
Demographer and social researcher Mark McCrindle predicts the job market will increasingly feature “precarious, insecure, contingent work; the gig economy – any work that doesn’t have consistent hours and entitlements”.
“We live in a time of contracts, casual work, freelance options, with no set hours and no social supports, such as sick leave, holiday pay and superannuation” he says.
This is especially the reality for younger workers, with only 38.9 per cent of them having a full-time job, down from 42.5 per cent in 2012.
A Senate inquiry into the future of work, which wrapped up last month, expressed great concern over what it saw as an erosion of working pay and conditions.
“Casual work, labour hire, sham contracting, the gig economy … are forms of work which in certain guises reduce workers’ rights and protections, and often deny workers access to basic rights and conditions that workers and unions have fought,” the inquiry’s final report said.
The committee’s report, Hope is not a strategy – our shared responsibility for the future, recommended that industrial relations regulations, provisions and protections be extended to the casual workforce with some contractors, such as Uber drivers, reclassified as employees.
In its submission to the inquiry UnitingCare cited a 2005 seminar paper on the rise of casual work authored by academics Robyn May, Iain Campbell and John Burgess.
“It is clear that casual workers in general are far more vulnerable to practices such as summary dismissal, variation in hours and schedules, arbitrary treatment and underpayment,” the paper stated.
The proliferation of casual work was recently denounced by the leader of the Anglican church in Britain, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
“The gig economy, zero-hours contracts, are nothing new,” he declared.
“It is simply the reincarnation of an ancient evil.”
However, not everyone has found the new world of work so diabolical.
Writer and editor Anita Coia went through three redundancies while working for large corporations, including the National Australia Bank.
She decided to start her own company, Red Pepper Communications, and says this decision changed her life for the better.
“The big benefit for me was the flexibility to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and have more leverage in the relationship with the client,” Anita says.
“When you are an employee, everything is stacked in the favour of the employer. There’s not so much flexibility, and that’s a transaction you agree to, as they are paying you for your efforts.
“Working for myself, I had a little more power in the relationship.”
However, Anita says there is also more pressure to remain viable.
“Especially these days, there are more people working in the gig economy,” she says.
“Competition is a bit fiercer for work, and employers have more choices at their disposal. When you are working for yourself, there are a lot more overheads involved.”
Before she was married, Anita found it easier to support herself, but she says that “things started to get complicated when I had children” and still had to “keep the work coming in”.
“That’s not an issue until suddenly your spare time is not spare; when your ‘free’ hours are reduced with children or with sick relatives,” she says.
Anita also has a mixed report on her job satisfaction and enjoyment.
“As an employee in a large company you are more removed from the output,” she says.
“There is more camaraderie as an employee, but you are also a cog in the machine. When you are working directly with clients, however, it is a lot more of an immediate relationship.
“The flipside is that if you are ‘fly in, fly out’, then you miss the teamwork aspect of life.”
Mark McCrindle says the social aspect of the traditional workplace is often underappreciated.
“Going to work gives us a place of belonging, of inclusion and affirmation,” he says.
“The impact of work in our lives is growing, as the workplace is increasingly becoming a place of social wellbeing: we used to know and interact with our neighbours and our extended families.
“We used to volunteer in greater numbers, and have ‘church families’. That’s increasingly not the case.”
Mark goes even further: “Work is not just employment; it is a key part of the human experience. Working is an essential part of being human.
“It’s always been important for our identity, our self-image, and for being able to pay the bills.
“But going to work it is now more of a sociological cornerstone; a key part of our overall communication. The workplace has become a key portal of the modern human experience.
“It is a place of both professional and personal connection. The workplace breaches the age gap, and keeps us in a learning mindset.”
Losing a job can feel like losing an identity, but it may also eventually provide freedom to grow and explore.
For Jim Pratchett (not his real name) the gig economy is proving a necessary stepping stone to reinventing himself both as an employee and as a person.
Jim was working for a large multi-national when they offered him a large redundancy as part of a corporate restructure.
He grabbed it and had some time off. With his recognised skillsets and a good attitude Jim expected that finding another job would not be too much of a problem.
Jim was diagnosed, wrongly as it turned out, with having depression.
However, he managed to be successfully re-deployed interstate with another multinational, only to find the geographical and emotional distance from his children and family to be even more debilitating than his medical condition.
A sharp economic downturn, with plummeting coal prices, again saw Jim unemployed. As a contractor, he says he was “last person on, first person off”.
“My work was valued, but I was expendable,” he said.
Jim went “home”, pursuing brain scans, blood tests, and answers.
He eventually found out years later that a severe lack of B12 had been resulting in oxygen deprivation, fatigue and incapacity.
The diagnoses led to regular B12 injections that, when combined with being reunited with his kids, helped him re-enter the workforce in a casual job.
Jim says he is prepared to do a boring and unfulfilling job until he can obtain more meaningful work. To this end he is studying a BA in behavioural studies.
Whether it is meaningful or not, some believe that automation and machines with artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually supplant most human employees.
Management consultants McKinsey predict the imminent loss of 800 million jobs worldwide through this process.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg and Virgin mogul Richard Branson have argued a basic universal income will be necessary for most to survived in a post-work world.
This type of scheme, already trialled in Finland and elsewhere, would see governments give people a guaranteed regular living “wage”.
A world where needs are met without needing to work might evoke biblical comparisons with the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were “free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Gen 2:15, NIV).
However, it would be wrong to suppose that even before the unfortunate incident with the apple Adam and Eve had no vocation because Genesis also states God placed them there “to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2: 16).
In the first book of the Bible the act of creation itself is described as a type of work, which God rests from on the seventh day.
This is perhaps reflected in the etymology of the word “work”, which comesfrom Old English/Mercian and Proto-Germanic tongues and the sense to “exert creative power; be a creator”.
Rev Dr Gordon Preece, Director of the University of Divinity’s Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy, says that “there is creativity in many, many fields of activity; many workers engage in craft, in some sense”.
“Work is relational, communal – an experience that connects you with others. Then there is also the aesthetic, creative level, whereby work’s not just a means to an end, but an end or aspect of life in itself,” Gordon says.
‘If we are spending long hours in the workplace, as many of us do, then we do well to look for how we can work with God in that experience.”
Gordon cites John Calvin and Martin Luther on the spirtual importance of work.
“They related the concept of calling, or vocation, to work, without being precious,” Gordons ays.
“Luther spoke of blacksmiths labouring in their smithies surrounded by their tools and bellows, being told by their tools to ‘use me to love and serve your neighbour’.
“We can adapt that picture to our technological tools, even those Artificially Intelligent tools.”
Gordon says the ultimate interpretation of work is that “life itself is a work in progress, and employment/vocation is not excluded.
“If we choose to live life to give glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31), through every part of our lives, then we need to see work as part of that picture,” he says.