Casualisation leaves workers facing a difficult and uncertain labour market

Author
Published date
19 Jan 2018
Much of the employment created in the UK in recent years has been low paid and insecure, as reflected in the increasing use of zero hours contracts and the growth in gig economy jobs.

But what problems do workers in insecure and casual types of experience? Answers are provided by a new TUC report, written by researchers from the Work, Organisation and Employment Relations Research Centre (WOERRC) at the University of Sheffield and the University of Greenwich.

The report includes an analysis of representative survey data from Wave 6 of the Understanding Society survey (USoC), which was undertaken in 2015 and covered almost 20,000 employees. By analysing the survey data, the researchers were able to discover the consequences of insecurity for workers’ job autonomy, wellbeing and hours of work.

The report shows that casual workers differ from workers with permanent and fixed-term contracts in a number of ways. Disproportionate numbers of casual workers are young people and work in elementary jobs. Casual workers are also more likely to self-identify as ‘non-white’: the percentage of workers who identified as ‘non-white’ in casual jobs was, at 16 per cent, double the percentage identifying as non-white in permanent and fixed-term jobs.

Workers in casual employment also differ from other workers in terms of the times at which they work. A relatively large percentage of workers in casual employment (12 per cent) have no regular pattern of work; compared to workers in permanent and fixed-term posts, they are more likely to work only in the evenings; and they are less likely to work during the day.

In addition, weekend working, while widespread across all types of employment status, is most common for workers in casual employment. These patterns of work appear to have consequences for workers’ wellbeing. The report shows that workers without regular hours of work are more likely to experience anxiety. In addition, low employment security and weekend working are associated with higher levels of anxiety as well as depression.

Compared to workers in permanent and fixed-term jobs, workers in casual employment are more likely to feel that they have no say over the tasks associated with their jobs, the pace of their work and how they perform it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are less likely to experience job satisfaction. Casual workers are also less likely to feel satisfied with their lives. Fifty-three percent of casual worker said that they were mostly or completely satisfied with their life, compared to 59 per cent of workers with a permanent contract and 56 percent of workers with a fixed-term contract.

Potentially, casual work can act as a stepping stone to a better job. However, it appears that this is not the case for many workers in insecure employment.

Twenty-three percent of workers in casual employment and 35 percent of those in fixed-term employment thought it likely or very likely that they would lose their job in the next 12 months. The report’s findings show that workers in casual employment were almost five times as likely to drop out of work altogether as those in permanent jobs while workers with fixed-term contracts were almost four times as likely to drop out of work.

The report’s findings suggest that women were particularly affected, being 1.5 times more likely than men to leave employment. The likelihood of leaving employment was also found to be higher for individuals who self-identified as non-white, young workers and those in elementary occupations. The findings further indicate that people in these groups had the worst prospects of securing permanent jobs.

These findings suggest that action needs to be taken on at least linked two fronts. Firstly, employers could be required to provide all of their employees with predictable hours of work and thus predictable incomes. The Taylor Review, by contrast, has proposed that employees with zero hours contracts be granted a right to request fixed hours, which places the onus on relatively powerless, vulnerable workers and provides no guarantee that their situation will improve.

Secondly, action is required to create more reliable employment entry ports and pathways, particularly for young workers. Casualisation has led to a greater number of workers facing more difficult and uncertain labour market and life transitions. Lifelong access to high quality learning opportunities might be part of the answer, but this should be coupled to policies aimed at de-casualising work.