National Patterns of Temporary Employment: The Distinctive Case of Casual Employment in Australia
journal contributionposted on 07.06.2017 by Campbell, Iain, Burgess, John
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Globalisation is sometimes treated as a dominant and homogenising influence on national patterns of employment. Employment is indeed a site of major change in the current period. However, the empirical evidence points both to the persistence of substantial diversity and indeed in many respects to an increasing divergence in patterns of employment at the national level. One important example of divergence, which has attracted attention because of its potential for consolidating new workforce divisions, is the pattem in the development of non-permanent forms of waged employment. This paper examines the example of casual employment in Australia and seeks to situate this example in terms of the current international discussion of nonpermanent waged employment, ie 'temporary' employment. In the panorama of diverse national patterns of temporary employment, Australia appears to occupy a distinctive and indeed extreme position. In most OECD countries temporary employment remains a relatively minor phenomenon, and only in a few countries is there any clear trend of growth in its relative significance. But in Australia casual employment, the main form of non-permanent waged employment, constitutes a major and rapidly growing component of the workforce. This paper introduces the category and practice of casual employment in Australia, and it draws out the similarities and differences with the category and practice of temporary employment in other OECD countries, including in particular the countries of the European Union. It examines the profile of casual employment in Australia, and it seeks to identify the features that appear distinctive in cross-national comparison. It concludes that casual employment is distinctive by virtue of its weighting to part-time status, its concentration in low-skill occupational groups, its concentration in small workplaces in the private sector, its more even spread amongst all age groups and amongst both men and women (with the fastest rates of growth being for young workers and for prime age men), and its markedly precarious character The distinctive case of casual employment underiines the need for a conceptual framework that can explore the way in which employer calculations and choices are mediated by institutional factors at a national level.