Published May 2017

The rising tide of non-standard employment

What do you think of when you think of a job? Does it involve working eight hours a day, five days a week? Does it mean knowing exactly who employs you and if you will still be working in a few months’ time?

For a growing number of people around the world, a job doesn’t look like this at all. For many workers, non-standard employment has become standard.

Explore this InfoStory to find out what the rise of non-standard employment means for workers, employers and societies across the globe.

What is non-standard employment?

Traditionally, labour laws have been based on the “standard” employment relationship. This is defined as a job that is continuous, full-time, with a direct relationship between employer and employee.

A job is considered “non-standard” if its features differ from those of standard employment.

Non-standard employment is becoming more widespread

Non-standard forms of employment are not new, but recently they have become more common in occupations and sectors where they didn’t exist previously.

Who works in non-standard employment?

The increase of non-standard forms of employment does not impact all workers equally. In general, women, young people and migrants are more likely to work in non-standard arrangements.

These trends reflect the difficulties that these groups often face when trying to find and keep a job.

What does it mean for workers?

Select a panel to learn more
Employment

Employment

Non-standard employment can provide opportunities for some workers to enter the labour market.  But because of the lack of security of many of these jobs, non-standard workers are often at much higher risk of unemployment than their counterparts in standard work. 

Earnings

Earnings

In most instances, non-standard workers earn less than their counterparts in standard jobs, even when other factors – such as age, sex and education – are taken into account. However, there are exceptions, such as for some non-standard jobs in high-demand, specialized professions, where non-standard workers can earn more.

Hours

Hours

Shorter working hours can give workers flexibility to combine work with other activities. Yet some workers, especially casual and on-call workers, have limited control over when and how often they work, resulting in income insecurity and poor work-life balance.

Safety at work

Safety at work

Some non-standard workers are at greater risk of injury at work due to poor induction, training and supervision. Job insecurity can also have negative impacts on mental health.

Social security

Social security

Social security systems were initially designed for the standard workers.  As a result, workers in non-standard employment often contribute less to social security due to a combination of short tenure, low earnings or fewer hours of work. This results in lower social security benefits and coverage for non-standard workers.

Representation

Representation

Workers in non-standard employment often face barriers – in law or in practice – to joining a union and are not always covered by collective bargaining agreements. Lack of representation makes it more difficult for them to access other rights at work.

What does it mean for firms?

Using non-standard employment provides firms with flexibility to respond to fluctuations in demand and to replace temporarily absent workers.

However, when non-standard employment is used intensively by enterprises, the benefits of these arrangements can be outweighed by long-term negative impacts on productivity and innovation. 

Plugging regulatory gaps

Legislation is an important tool for securing better employment terms and working conditions for non-standard workers. Legislation can also shape when and how often non-standard employment can be used. 

Collective bargaining is another useful tool for regulating non-standard employment and can address the specificities of particular enterprises or economic sectors. 

Ensuring a healthy labour market

Support quality job creation

In times of economic instability, businesses are more likely to rely on non-standard work arrangements. Countries must adopt fiscal and monetary policies that foster opportunities for full employment.

Training and life-long learning help workers take advantage of these opportunities and increase overall productivity and growth.

Ensure all workers have social protection

Policies should ensure that all workers – regardless of the nature of their employment – can both contribute to and benefit from social security programmes such as health insurance and pension funds. In today’s society, this often means modifying existing systems to make them more responsive to the rapidly changing world of work.

Support workers with families

Many workers – mostly women – must juggle employment with the responsibility of caring for young, sick or elderly family members. Societies can support these workers by mandating parental and care leave for both women and men, and by making it easier for all workers to transition between full-time and part-time work.

Decent work for workers in non-standard employment

Non-standard forms of employment will most likely continue to proliferate as the world of work evolves.

Regulation through national legislation, collective bargaining, and comprehensive social protection systems is key to ensuring that non-standard employment is decent work in the interest of both workers and enterprises.

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© 2017 International Labour Organization (ILO)