The COVID-19 global pandemic has seen hundreds of businesses under threat and many have laid off or stood down, staff employed on casual work arrangements. The cohorts that have been particularly impacted are young people, women, migrant workers and the workers with disabilities who are often engaged in casual work. The industries that have been hardest hit include retail, hospitality, tourism, and entertainment that traditionally employ large numbers of casual workers.
The pandemic is a stark reminder of how important it is to have secure employment that is full-time, ongoing and permanent because casual workers are the first to be let go. Also, when it comes to government support programmes, such as Australia’s JobKeeper, the replacement wages does not provide support for causal workers unless they are long-term casual employees who have worked for the company for over 12 months. As we emerge from lock-down, it is those in secure full-time, permanent working arrangements who are likely to be first to go back to work.
For decades research has investigated precarious and casual work to highlight the vulnerability of people in these work arrangements. For this article, we unpick the discussion in a book chapter, published by Michael Quinlan. The text reviews the substantial research on precarious workers to extend the Pressure, Disorganisation, and Regulatory failure (PDR) model to look at the impact of casual work arrangements on workplace safety and mental health. The research also shows that the shift to more flexible, or casual work, can even impact the work intensity and security of employees with secure working arrangements.
As we begin to hire new employees, should we reconsider working arrangements and move to secure employment, rather than continue to employ large numbers of people as casuals? The research suggests we should.
Flexible Labour Results in Large Numbers in Casual Workers
The growth of precarious and casual work over the past few decades is due to repeated rounds of organisational restructuring. Typically, companies downsize, outsource, and privatise. It is not unusual for them to continue to increase their use of extended supply chains that rely on elaborate networks of subcontracting.
Many companies engage in business process reengineering and lean production to cut costs. What this means for workers is increasing inequality at work, that results in more intense work, less employment security, a move to precarious and casual work arrangements, multiple job-holding, and long or irregular working hours.
The PDR Model
When we look at the review of the research presented in this book chapter and apply it to a work health and safety context Michael Quinlan‘s pressure, disorganisation and regulatory failure (PDR) model is helpful. The PDR model consists of three critical elements:
Pressure – Casual workers may have insecure jobs and may fear that they will lose their job. Also, they are likely to have irregular payment for work and therefore encounter ongoing budgeting problems and continual stress and anxiety. And, they are likely to work fewer hours and have intermittent work sequences with multiple jobs and employers.
Disorganisation – Casual and short tenure work highlights a worker’s inexperience. Inductions, training, and supervisory regimes are all weaker and the formal and informal information flows among workers may be fractured. Critically, the management of WHS becomes more difficult when workers have multiple employers or work in multiple subcontracting chains due to differing requirements, policies and procedures. Also, casual workers may not have union representation and may be unable to organise to protect themselves, as in the case of home workers. Finally, the monitoring of their mental health is all the more difficult because of their transient work arrangements.
Regulatory Failure – Casual work makes it more difficult to ensure minimum labour standards, to allocate employer responsibility, and monitor and enforce laws across multi-employer worksites.
I Have a Full-time Secure Job, How Does That Affect Me?
Research increasingly shows that the shift to casual working arrangements also impacts the work intensity and security of those with secure employment including:
- Intensified competition for jobs and work.
- More fractured WHS management regimes.
- Additional training and supervision responsibilities.
- Adverse impacts on work or product quality.
- Work and life conflict interactions.
- Reduced communication.
- Difficulty in meeting family responsibilities.
- Negative effects on the ability to do one’s job and take pride in one’s work.
- Weakening the interpersonal relationships on which successful, productive work depends.
Also, there is growing evidence that downsizing and understaffing, and the use of casual and precarious workers, i.e. contractors and temporary workers, can extend to the health and safety of your clients and customers.
See our article, How COVID-19 is Impacting Safety at Work.
How Do We Ensure Our Casual Workers Take Safety Seriously?
As the research suggests when we have a highly casualised workforce, there is a strain on workplace safety and employee mental health, and an increasing load on supervision. This is where robust and engaging safety inductions and regular hazard awareness training are critical. Also, training in coping strategies and where to seek help is important to manage workplace mental health. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is making training delivery challenging and online solutions can not only train effectively with increased engagement but also save time and money.
Tap into Safety has interactive online and mobile-friendly safety training that uses 360-degree panoramic scenes and employee mental health training that uses MicroLearning on one software platform. There’s a substantial number of out-of-the-box training courses that you can use in your safety induction and improve hazard awareness. If you’d like to know more, please contact us or click through to try a free online demo.
As we recover from COVID-19, there are five areas that you should consider to help you manage employees on casual work arrangements:
- Communication – Make time to regularly talk to your team, be positive and encourage respect.
- Performance Management – Focus on the performance, encourage self-assessment, and conduct regular one-to-ones, keeping an open dialogue.
- Keep Tabs on Mental Health – Find out what drives and motivates your casual employees, regularly check in with them to show that they are cared for and feel safe and valued, and try to understand what information your employees need and provide it to them, quickly and regularly.
- Safety – Safety professionals need to actively engage and give casual employees ownership of the work they do and the risk controls they use.
- Training and Development – COVID-19 has made eLearning the focal point of most training and development initiatives with many organisations shifting in-person or blended training initiatives entirely online. They are also moving up, and re-prioritising, annual compliance training, including safety inductions and VOC’s.
See our article, How Will Australians Recover From COVID-19?
As we emerge from the COVID-19 lock-downs and restrictions and begin to rehire we need to consider our working arrangments. The pandemic saw the mass standing down and laying off of people in casual work, and this group was highly vulnerable and remains so.
Today, casual and precarious working arrangements may be seen as a cost-saving for a business, especially when cash flow is tight. However, in the long-term using high numbers of casual workers negatively impacts on the mental health and safety for all employees. There is an increase in competition for work, difficulty in managing WHS regimes, additional training and supervision responsibilities. Also, communication is more difficult and interrupted and may impact on the quality of the work and monitoring of mental health, especially if workers have multiple employers with conflicting WHS requirements.
There is also a negative impact on mental health for those in casual work arrangements in that work may conflict with family responsibilities. Also, a lack of continual and regular work can increase the financial strain on families.
How do we want our workforces to look like post-COVID-19? The research suggests we should give this some more thought.