A major new study released today explodes the myth that Australia’s 2.2 million casual workers are happy being casual with the finding that 75% of respondents would prefer a permanent job.

Conducted by Dr Barbara Pocock, Dr Rosslyn Prosser & Dr Ken Bridge of the University of Adelaide, the study is being presented today at an ACTU conference on Casual and Insecure Employment. Speaking at the conference ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

“This major new study disproves the myth that casuals prefer the ‘flexibility’ of casual work and don’t want permanent jobs. Key findings include:

  • Three quarters of the casual workers studied would prefer permanent jobs so
    that they could access paid sick and holiday leave, improve their job security
    and get more respect in the workplace. Participants said:
    – ‘I
    actually asked my supervisor twice [to become permanent] and both times she
    rejected it’ (Abby 30s, casual cleaner)
    – ‘Well I think you are used
    and abused…I was always under the impression that casual workers were there
    for overload situations, emergencies, or whatever but I’ve been casual for
    five years now’ (Alice 43, casual word processor)
  • The majority of casual workers studied believe their jobs are not
    ‘flexible’ in ways that suit them – these workers felt they
    are on call rather than in charge of working time.
    – ‘When there is
    work and they want me, they love me, love me like a rash, and when there’s
    no work, I don’t exist.’ (Sue 33, casual hospital nurse)
  • Many casual workers experience significant financial and job insecurity and
    cannot access training and promotion opportunities.
    – ‘If I was a
    single man I could be a lot more flexible that I can afford to be as a married
    man with commitments… I’m just an everyday Joe that wants a five day a
    week job.’ (George 40, casual technician in same workplace for 13
    – ‘As a casual you’re only taught the basics and
    you’re really not part of the team…’ (Don, casual truck
  • Many casual workers work when they are sick or rarely have holidays and
    their health and family relationships are affected.
    – ‘Myself, I had quite a
    few times when I had accidents and so on and I still went to work because I just
    couldn’t take time off. Financially, it was too difficult.’ (Rachel,
    40’s casual cashier through a labour hire company)
  • The study examines the experience of casual work from the perspective of 55 randomly selected casuals and is believed to be the largest Australian research of its kind.

    The findings are consistent with recent quantitative research with ABS data showing three quarters of all casuals saying they would prefer more regular patterns of work. A recent Parliamentary Library study also concluded that ‘…casual employment (with the exception of students) is probably an involuntary work arrangement for many workers’.

    The study shows that the massive growth in casual work — a 76% rise since 1990 and a 21% rise since 1996 — is casting a shadow over workplaces more generally and is affecting productivity.

    In light of these findings, the Federal Government and employer groups should stop supporting greater casualisation of the workforce and start supporting efforts by the ACTU to give more rights to long-term casuals, including the choice to convert to a permanent job.”

    More Information

    Fact Sheet on Casual Work

    Only A Casual: How Casual Work Affects Employees, Households and Communities in Australia – this study reports on the experience of 55 casual workers and their attitudes towards casual work, be it positive, ambivalent or reluctant. Download the Executive Summary (PDF) or the Full Report (PDF).

    Casual Work and Casualisation – How Does Australia Compare? – a report by Prof Iain Campbell, Centre for Applied Research, RMIT, which explores international comparisons, centring on the pivotal issue of the peculiarity of casualisation in Australia.

    Paradoxes of Significance – Australian Casualistion and Labour Productivity – a report by Dr John Buchanan, Deputy Director of Research, acirrt, University of Sydney, looks at the economic significance of casualisation.