Australians are taking on multiple jobs in record numbers as a lack of well-paid, full-time work forces employees to juggle several roles to make ends meet.
Data released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed a record 850,000 Australians were working multiple jobs during the December quarter – up by almost 100,000 on the previous quarter.
The three industries employing the highest number of workers with more than one job were health care and social assistance, administrative and support services, and education and training.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the new record showed working people were “desperate” and struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.
Angela Knox, associate professor of work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney Business School, said a lack of full-time and permanent work meant people were “cobbling together” multiple jobs to earn a decent income.
“A significant proportion of it would have been precarious work; casual work that is not ongoing – very piecemeal jobs,” Dr Knox said.
Not all doom and gloom
APAC Indeed economist Callam Pickering was more optimistic, though.
Mr Pickering said people taking on multiple jobs due to financial pressure was a “valid concern”, but declining rates of underemployment suggest that’s not the main driver.
Someone is classified as underemployed if they have a job but can’t get as many hours as they would like – and the underemployment rate is hovering close to 13-year lows.
“At the moment, I think there’s just a lot of work that is available,” said Mr Pickering, referring to record-high job vacancies seen at the end of last year.
“A larger fraction of the workforce are finding the hours they want right now – and I think that should be viewed as a positive.”
Australia Institute Centre for Future Work policy director Greg Jericho, however, said there had been a trend of Australians holding more than one job for several years due to fewer full-time jobs and “anaemic” wage rises.
“Wage rises have not been keeping up with cost of living,” Mr Jericho told The New Daily.
ABS data shows wages rose by 0.7 per cent in the December quarter, lagging behind the 1 per cent rise in inflation over the same period.
Mr Jericho said rising rates of secondary jobs was a sign of an unhealthy labour market.
“It’s a real sign that there is a rise of insecure work and a rise of low-paying part-time work that is just not doing the job when it comes to being able to live on,” he said.
He said employers are under pressure from COVID-19 to cut possible “slack” from their workforces, and are following the lead of governments placing caps on pay rises in the public sector.
“Businesses have decided that this is a more profitable way to operate,” he said.
Split identities; stilted progression
Dr Knox said juggling different jobs and workplaces, along with personal responsibilities such as raising children, is not only inconvenient but could “fracture” people’s work identities.
“They feel as though they’re never able to form a stable work identity … and that can be damaging for mental health,” she said.
Holding down more than one job also limits workers’ opportunities to enjoy a “formalised career progression” in a single organisation, Dr Knox said.
“There are some workers who seek the flexibility of picking and choosing hours across more than one organisation,” she said.
“But there are also a lot of workers who, given the opportunity, would much prefer one ongoing job in a single organisation.”
Mr Jericho said increased flexibility in work means more insecurity because it generally translates to fewer hours and lower wages.
“The government has argued this is good for the economy because it makes things more efficient and more productive, which might be true, but the benefits of that efficiency and productivity don’t end up with the the actual workers who are improving things.”
What needs to happen?
Dr Knox said the issue requires a proactive policy response because it is getting worse.
She said companies should be made to reintroduce quotas for permanent workers to minimise forms of “insecure” work, such as casual and contract employment.
Mr Jericho said the government must lift the public-sector pay rise caps and acknowledge that wages rising in step with inflation is a minimum standard for which Australians shouldn’t need to feel grateful.
“If your wages are only going up with inflation, you’re probably worse off,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Pickering said although 1 in 16 Australians holding multiple jobs represents a small share of the overall workforce, it should be enough to encourage the government to deliver more protections for casual workers.