Monday, April 2, 2012

Casualization of the workforce-- is it for you?

There has been a great deal of debate over the last decade about the ‘casualization’ of the workforce.  (Actually I remember way back in the late 70’s, commentators talking about the coming changes to labour practises, but they didn’t use that term). Several examples that have featured in the news media recently spring to mind.
We all know about the debacle on the Auckland waterfront between the Ports of Auckland and the port workers and that has yet to run its course. It is difficult to get to the real facts that are driving this and I am not at all sure about some of the figures put out about what the workers are alleged to have earned. You hear numbers as high as NZ$100,000 per year. The workers dispute this.
Whatever the figures are, one must take into account the levels of danger surrounding this type of work. I am also not sure about the hours of work and other conditions that some sources claim. It should not be like this. We as the public need to know more, before we jump on the bandwagon that is harnessed to the publicist for the Port Authorities. Perhaps the union itself should find ways of putting the real (independently audited) figures out there.
There is another example that rarely appears in the news media; the hotel workers, consisting of a range of positions. Take room attendants---- those hard working silent people who keep the rooms clean. Most of them are on the minimum wage with a few on a few dollars more, by reaching the exalted position of ‘self-checking.’ That means that they do their work and it is not supervised unless there are a number of complaints, then it’s back to the basic again. Some of these workers have been on the slowly rising minimum wage for many years.
Not only is their pay poor, but a large number of them are ‘casualized.’ They are basically on call. There is no guarantee that they will get anywhere near the traditional 40 hour week. They may work as little as 20 hours in down periods. The management of course will say that such workers came into the industry knowing that the hours would be flexible. (I am sure that the management would not be in the same position!).
Many of the workers take these jobs because their choices are limited for a range of reasons---- there are simply not the jobs out there that the government always claims. A job is a job and people take the positions; not through a choice of a career, but to put food on the table.
These positions are casualized and this is what the implications are for them. In order to get something close to a 40 hour week they will be forced to work 7 or more days without a break, but possibly only for about 6 hours a day.
When these workers arrive at work (if they are rostered on) they get an allocation of rooms and there is a formula as to how long it will take these rooms. If they clean the rooms in an efficient manner and to the ‘correct’ standard, the time allowed will be fair (even if it is only 5 or 6 hours work) but there are often unforeseen circumstances re the cleaning of some rooms. I am sure you can all imagine what a room looks like after there has been an unofficial party taking place after a rugby game in Auckland.
Cleaning rooms is a hard physical job. There is lifting involved and also some unpleasant cleaning to do. I feel for these workers. They have something in common with the Port Workers--- that is if the workforce is casualized; they need to have certainty of income in order to survive in this world where bills are regular and never ending. How does one take out a mortgage if it is impossible to satisfy a bank that an income is consistent--- to the point that the income can support high payments, week after week? No bank is going to lend if there is even a ‘whiff’ of doubt around the ability of the customer to be able to meet the payments.
The bottom line is that for workers in any industry either facing casualization or already fully ensconced, there is a great deal of uncertainty that they can partake in an economy that treats workers as merely convenient ‘warehouses of labour’, sitting waiting for the call to work. How many of us (you) would consider this as a healthy economic option?
The signs are all there--- more and more of us will face that cruel world. The gap between the ‘fully employed and the casualized will get bigger and bigger and we will all suffer the consequences. Expect to see smaller uptakes in educational opportunities, poorer medical outcomes, as the tax take goes down and public hospitals cut even more services. We are looking at a society where large segments will feel alienated and no amount of crowing from our politicians about us ‘getting real’ and facing this new competitive world will quell the unrest that surely must follow.
A Brave new World? --- Not for me!