Recent legislative and political developments around the world illustrate the continuing increase of precarious work. Trade unions are fighting back.

A recent study in the UK shows that young people employed on zero-hour contracts are more likely to have worse mental and physical health than their peers with more stable work. Among the negative impacts of zero-hour contracts on health are, financial stress and anxiety.

In November 2016, zero-hour contracts made up 6 per cent of employment contracts in the UK. 43 per cent of workers in the UK are in precarious employment. In the European Union standard employment on the basis of full-time permanent contracts has continuously decreased in the last ten years from 62 per cent to 59 per cent. The crisis has led to an increase in involuntary temporary and part- time employment.

“It’s time to be rid of the aberration of human dignity of zero-hour contracts.” said Len McCluskey, Unite the Union’s General Secretary, on 8 July 2017.

Unions are fighting back

In the UK, unions have been taking action against precarious work notably by urging the Government to ban the abusive zero hour contracts.

In Germany in May, IG Metall negotiated an agreement with the employers’ associations that will allow temporary agency workers in the metal and electrical Industries to receive a 65 per cent supplement in order to reach the same wages as permanent workers. The new agreement also makes it easier for temporary agency workers to become permanent workers after 24 months.

The European Parliament has recently adopted several resolutions, highlighting a decline in the quality of jobs due to the use of precarious work.  On 4 July, members of the European parliament adopted a new non–legislative resolution recommending improvements in working conditions and tackling precarious employment, including undeclared work and bogus self-employment.

Recommendations include the respect of a set of minimum standards on social protection, minimum wage and access to training to increase the quality of non-standard jobs; renewed efforts to combat undeclared work, bogus self-employment and all forms of illegal employment practices; and the prevention of zero-hour contracts.

In Australia, permanent employment in a full-time job is now enjoyed by less than 50 per cent of Australia’s working population. 23 per cent of manufacturing workers are now casual, an increase from virtually zero in the 1980s. Casual employees in the manufacturing sector have enjoyed a “right to request” conversion to permanent status for nearly twenty years.

However most casual employees are unaware of this right as employers are under no obligation to tell them. And even when knowing, workers were concerned with losing their jobs if they exercised the right.

Unions launched claims to the Fair Work Commission trying to improve prospects for permanent employment among casuals in manufacturing, by making permanent employment mandatory after six months of regular engagement and to extend this right to workers in other industries.

On 5 July, the Australian Fair Work Commission issued a decision on casual employment leaving the rights for manufacturing workers more or less unchanged, with the difference now being that the Commission can make a recommendation should a casual worker be refused the right to be made permanent. However employers faced with such a recommendation are not forced to follow it.

Even though this ruling has ignored many of the unions’ claims, the decision has given greater impetus to Australian unions’ campaign to Change the Rules. IndustriALL affiliates in Australia will be campaigning to Change the Rules up to the next (federal) election in 2019, and beyond.

Casual work and subcontracted labour also remain a significant and increasing issue in Asia. In the Philippines, unions are campaigning for legislation against the use of contractualisation in the country.

On 1 May, more than 3,000 workers mobilized. Trade union leaders were invited to a discussion organized by the Office of the President, held in Davao City in the Mindanao region.  A new Decree Order (DO 174-2017) was issued by the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) in March 2017. The new DO partly legitimizes the employment of contract workers through contracting agencies. This provoked the unions to appeal to the Philippine President to issue an Executive Order to prohibit the use of contractualisation.

As a result of the dialogue, the President requested trade unions to come up with a draft Executive Order (EO) prohibiting contractualisation. The draft has since been submitted to the Office of the President for review and further discussion.

Unions are still waiting for the President’s comments on the draft. Unions are also campaigning for the adoption of the bill on Security of Tenure, to restrict precarious work/short term contract and temporary agency work that has been under review in the Parliament for several years.

“Let’s take action on 7 October throughout the world, demonstrating again our united commitment to stopping precarious work. Unions have to continue to mobilize and fight back the increase of precarious work around the world. With the development of supply chain models, and of digitalisation the problem could spread uncontrollably,” said Valter Sanches, General Secretary of IndustriALL