Yes, We Can Do Something About Insecure Work

Some people are claiming that bad jobs are inevitable and there is nothing we can do about insecure work. These people need to read an important new study from the International Labor Organization, which highlights smart policies that have been used to improve insecure work.

    The comprehensive study by the ILO documents the rise of “non-standard” forms of work—temporary work, seasonal work, casual or intermittent work, daily work, involuntary part-time work, on-call work, temp agency work, subcontracted work, and employment misclassified as independent contracting—around the world in recent decades.

    For most working people, these “non-standard” working arrangements have meant greater economic insecurity, including lower earnings, greater likelihood of unemployment, limited control over work hours, less predictable schedules, lower likelihood of union representation, greater occupational safety and health risk, and reduced access to on-the-job training and unemployment and retirement benefits.

    Insecure work is not inevitable. The ILO study identifies policy choices that have made “non-standard” work less insecure, including the following:

    • Ensuring equal treatment for part-time workers with regard to wages, working conditions, freedom of association, safety and health, paid annual leave, paid holidays, maternity leave, pension benefits, protections against discrimination, and termination of employment;
    • Ensuring equal treatment for temp agency workers with regard to wages, working conditions and freedom of association, and protecting agency workers against discrimination;
    • Preventing abuse by setting limits on the use of temp agency work, casual work, on-call work or labor subcontracting, in certain circumstances;
    • Assigning joint liability for labor and employment obligations to lead firms in subcontracting networks and user firms in multiple-party arrangements;
    • Establishing minimum guaranteed hours for part-time, on-call and casual workers, and limiting the variability of working schedules;
    • Cracking down on misclassification of employees as independent contractors by, for example, establishing a presumption of an employment relationship or legally defining contracts for certain kinds of services as employment contracts;
    • Using collective bargaining to regulate insecure work by, for example,turning contract work into regular jobs; ensuring equal treatment of temporary, temp agency, casual and part-time workers; guaranteeing minimum hours; and negotiating worker-friendly schedules;
    • Ensuring that all “non-standard” workers can organize and be represented effectively in collective bargaining;
    • Broadening the scope of collective bargaining to all workers in a sector or occupational category;
    • Strengthening remedies against anti-union discrimination, especially discrimination against temporary and on-call workers;
    • Forming alliances between unions and other organizations, such as day labor worker centers, to address issues of concern to insecure workers;
    • Promoting fiscal and monetary policies that lead to full employment;
    • Making social protection programs more inclusive by lowering thresholds for hours, earnings, duration of employment and minimum contributions.