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Labour market regulation

Making non-standard jobs decent jobs

Today there is greater variation in the labour market, with many workers in part-time, on-call, or temporary employment, in employment arrangements with multiple employers, or in disguised employment or dependent self-employment. The ILO refers to these arrangements as “non-standard forms of employment”.

Comment | 18 November 2016
© Alex Ogle / AFP
Non-standard forms of employment (NSFE) gives flexibility to employers and it can also provide opportunities for workers to gain entry and access new opportunities in the labour market, as well as reconcile work with home life. But non-standard jobs can be associated with greater insecurity for workers. For some it can mean cycling between short-term jobs and unemployment, heightening concerns over when they will work and be paid next. Workers in non-standard jobs may also have lower coverage of social security benefits and face greater risks in terms of occupational safety and health. They are also less likely to join a union.

But it doesn’t need to be this way – non-standard jobs can be ‘decent’ jobs. Improving the quality of non-standard jobs requires adequate policies.

In our report, Non-standard employment: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects, we document the trends and consequences of the rise in non-standard employment across the world and offer four main policy recommendations for how these jobs can be made decent.

The first recommendation
is to plug regulatory gaps. For example, with policies that ensure equal treatment among workers regardless of their contractual arrangement; policies establishing minimum guaranteed hours for on-call workers and giving workers a say in their work schedules; legislation and enforcement to address employment misclassification; as well as restricting some uses of non-standard employment to address abuse, such as not allowing temporary agency workers to replace workers during strikes. For workers in employment relationships involving multiple parties, there is a need to ensure that employers using agency or ‘leased’ workers are held responsible for safety and health and are also liable for payment of wages and social security benefits if the contracting firm becomes insolvent.

The second policy concerns another regulatory tool: collective bargaining. Collective bargaining can take into account the particular circumstances of the sector or enterprise and is thus well-suited for addressing the needs of both employers and workers. Collective bargaining should be strengthened by building the capacity of unions to represent workers in non-standard jobs, and by ensuring that all workers have access to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Where it exists, the extension of collective agreements to all workers in a sector or occupational category is a useful tool for reducing insecurities and improving working conditions in non-standard jobs.

The third policy recommendation is to improve social protection coverage. Here we propose a two-pronged approach consisting of: (1) adapting social security systems to increase the coverage of workers in non-standard jobs, by lowering thresholds on minimum hours, earnings or duration of employment, making systems more flexible with regards to contributions required to qualify for benefits, allowing for interruptions in contributions, and enhancing the portability of benefits, and (2) complementing social security with universal policies guaranteeing a basic level of social protection.

Finally, there is a need for comprehensive employment and social policies that support the labour market, including through policies that support employment creation, the provision of public care services, but also by giving workers greater ability to take parental and elder care leave as well as to partake in training and life-long learning. These policies help to address shortcomings in the current design of standard jobs, thereby providing workers with family responsibilities greater choice in whether to engage in standard or non-standard work.

Non-standard jobs can offer greater options for employers in how they organize work. But when there are distinctions between the entitlements that accrue to one contractual form as opposed to another, it creates incentives for employers to use these arrangements as a way to reduce labour costs, rather than as a legitimate response to specific demands in production. There is thus a need to implement measure that narrow the differences between ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ jobs, so that employers’ need for flexibility can be met, but not at the expense of workers’ well-being or fair competition.

Simply providing a universal basic income – as some commentators on the growing casualization or ‘uberization’ of work have suggested – is not sufficient, as it doesn’t address the many dimensions of work that affect our daily lives. The labour market needs to be regulated to ensure that our workplaces are safe and healthy, that there are limits on the hours we work, that we earn at least the minimum wage, that there is equal pay for work of equal value and that we are protected from discrimination, to name a few.

In the years ahead, it is clear that new technologies will continue to transform the workplace, adding new jobs that could not have been imagined decades earlier, and eliminating ones that exist today. But our dependence on work for our livelihood and its impact on our overall well-being will not change.

So as we look towards the future, we must strive to ensure that all forms of work are decent, as no contractual form is immune to these on-going transformations.

By Janine Berg, Senior Economist at the ILO