Insecure Forms of Employment - Q&A

Did you identify any trends in employment for seniors (over 55s)?

Over the last 20 years there has been a marked growth in the proportion of older workers (aged 55+) who are permanent employees. This has mainly been because of a decline in self-employment. According to the HILDA Survey, at the start of this century around 35% of workers in this age bracket were self-employed. By 2018 this proportion had shrunk to 25%.

The share of workers in this age group who are casual employees has also shrunk, but the decline is modest – from around 15% to just over 13%.

The table showing job satisfaction by employment type did not include a reference to young people that fell outside the 'prime-age' bracket. Do you have insights into whether this same satisfaction level exists for those within the 18-25yo bracket?

Younger people, on average, report higher levels of job satisfaction than older workers. But there is no evidence that the patterns of satisfaction with respect to different types of employment differ from that for older workers. For example, average levels of job satisfaction among young casual employees are still little different from average levels of job satisfaction among young workers in permanent jobs.

You have not mentioned the entitlements casual workers accrue with time - superannuation and redundancy payouts?

The minimum level of superannuation payment as specified under the Superannuation Guarantee must be paid in respect of most employees, both permanent and casual. The only exceptions here are employees who earn very little (<$450 per month).

Casual employees, however, will typically not be eligible for redundancy pay. This is thus one of those employment benefits that casual employees forego in return for a wage premium, which is now a standard 25% in all modern awards (but prior to 2011 was less uniform but with the norm being 20%).

The value of redundancy pay to most non-casual employees, however, is unlikely to be large. First, it requires employees being made redundant. Second, the level of payments is often not large. The award standard, for example, is only 4 weeks pay for one year service, rising to a maximum of 12 weeks pay for service of 10 years or more.

For more on redundancy provisions in awards, see:

How important is the 25% loading to offset annual, sick leave for casuals in casual employee relative happiness and IR harmony?

My personal view is that the pay loading for casual work is absolutely critical, and is one of the main reasons why the rate of casual employment in Australia is so high. It both encourages workers to accept casual work and legitimises its use by employers.

Is there any evidence on recruitment rates / new employment for casuals vs permanent employees? Any evidence from past recessions (and their recovery)? i.e. are employers more likely to employ casuals than permanent employees?

This is probably best addressed with employer data, rather than the household data I mostly work with. However, it is very clear that it is casual employees who tend to lose their jobs first in a recession. This is reflected in the marked drop in the May 2020 quarter in the number of employees without leave entitlements. This number fell by 541,500 in one quarter, or by over 20%. However, I also expect casual employment to grow much faster in the recovery. And in this current recovery the new hiring credit would seem designed to ensure this.

Has your research considered agency worker pay levels compared to permanent workers?

Evidence on how pay levels differ across employment types is presented in:

Inga Laß and Mark Wooden. 2019. The structure of the wage gap for temporary workers: evidence from Australian panel data. British Journal of Industrial Relations 57(3), September, 453-478.

A feature of that worker is that we separately identify labour hire (or temporary agency) workers. And, on average, agency workers have higher hourly earnings than all other groups. Compared to otherwise comparable permanent employees that premium averages about 10% for men and 8% for women. For casual employees the estimated premiums are only 5%. These numbers, are of course, much lower than the 20% casual premium assumed to be the norm in awards during much of the period studies. This most likely reflects permanent workers being more to likely to be assigned or promoted to higher award pay scales (or to be receiving over-award pay) than their casual counterparts or their greater likelihood of being employed in firms with enterprise agreements (which typically mean wages above minimum award rates). However, it might also reflect casual workers being more likely to be employed in firms that do not comply with award wage minima.

How much is the employer's superannuation contribution for casual employees? Any difference with employees with permanent contracts?

As mentioned above, casual employees have the same minimum entitlement to superannuation as permanent employees.

Where there may be a difference is with respect to voluntary employer contributions above the minimum. At the University of Melbourne, for example, many permanent employees receive employer contributions equal to 17% of their salary, so well above the 9.5% minimum. Casual employees (and some fixed-term contract employees), however, are only entitled to the 9.5% minimum.

Any role for the government to incentivise self-employment + training as a potential outcome?

  1. Self-employment continues to shrink as a proportion of the total workforce. This would seem to suggest that the environment is becomingly increasingly hostile to the self-employed. This, however, does not necessarily provide a case for subsidizing self-employment. That may for example only lead to more failed business ventures. Rather policy-makers should perhaps consider whether there are impediments created by policy interventions that could be removed or offset in some way.

For more about self-employment see:

  1. On training, we have previously examined whether training helps non-permanent workers transition to permanent jobs. We reached the conclusion that receipt of training typically has little impact.
  • Duncan McVicar, Mark Wooden, Felix Leung and Ning Li. 2016. Work-related training and the probability of transitioning from non-standard to permanent employment. British Journal of Industrial Relations 54(3), September, 623-646.

Any insights on precarious employment by occupation?

There is no major occupation group where insecure forms of employment are not pervasive.

Casual employment is highly correlated (inversely) with skill, and hence is relatively uncommon in managerial and professional occupations. But rates of fixed-term contract employment are highest in professional occupations, and rates of self-employment are highest in managerial occupations.

Overall, the occupation group with the highest permanent employee share is Clerical and administrative workers (though this may be the occupation group where permanent part-time work is also most common). Conversely, the permanent share is lowest among Labourers.

We hear a lot about casualisation in higher education, especially teaching. Does the data show anything about this industry relative to others?

I agree we do hear a lot about this, especially from the NTEU. The HILDA Survey sample, however, is probably too small to tell us much about trends in the university sector, and unfortunately, the ABS does not report data for casual employment by industry.

However, the ABS data from the Labour Force Survey does inform us that the share of part-time employment in this sector has dropped markedly in the last year (see Table below). Given most casual employees tend to work part-time, this might reflect the loss in casual jobs. However, the number of part-time jobs did not fall much at all – rather the decline in the share occurred because of a marked growth in full-time jobs in this sector. Thus while there has been much talk of impending job losses, employment in the sector grew by 15% in the year to August 2002. By comparison, employment across all industries fell by 2.6%

These data also show that growth in part-time employment in Tertiary Education over the last 20 years has been far outstripped by growth in full-time job (25% growth vs 101% over the last 20 years). This is in stark contrast to economy-wide trends, where the rate of growth in part-time jobs over the last 20 years has been almost double that of full-time jobs.

While part-time jobs are not necessarily casual jobs, these ABS data would seem to pose a challenge to the idea that higher education jobs have become increasingly casualized over time.

Employment in tertiary education and all industries compared






PT share

Tertiary Education


August 2001





August 2010





August 2018





August 2019





August 2020





% change, 2001-2020





All industries


August 2001





August 2010





August 2018





August 2019





August 2020





% change, 2001-2020





Source: ABS, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed (Table 06).

Have you examined differences in satisfaction within casual work (e.g., more/less hours or income stability)?

We have looked at how employment type interacts with a selected number of variables ininfluencing job satisfaction. These variables were: marital status and children; education; length of job tenure; regularity of work schedules; and hours of work. A key finding was that job satisfaction of casual employees was much lower when working irregular schedules.

This, however, is clearly an issue where more could be done.


Youth employability has notoriously been precarious? what prevents employers from transitioning workers in low skill/high wage sectors to permanent hours in those sectors/industries?

Not sure I fully understand this question, but I totally agree that youth are much more susceptible to fluctuations in the state of the economy than older workers. Most obviously unemployment rises much more rapidly in a recession among young people than it does among older age groups. This, however, is a labour market feature common to many countries. While not something I have studied in any detail, I doubt Australia is distinctive here. If so, this suggests that if casual employment were not an option that would still not protect young people from economic downturns. Essentially, youth face a disadvantage in the labour market because of their relative lack of experience.

There is, however, no technical obstacle to firms employing any workers on a permanent basis, and indeed a sizeable minority of young people (37% in 2018) are permanent employees.

A key reasons for why so many young persons are in casual employment is their concentration in low-wage sectors where skill requirements are low and where demand is highly variable or concentrated as certain times of the day or week (as in hospitality).

Another factor is the prevalence of combining work with study within this group, which will often mean work is a low priority in their lives. Both worker and employer will thus be less committed to each other.

Do you foresee any changes in the dynamics of employment types over the next few years (e.g. more casual employment)?

I confess I am not good at predicting the future, but cyclical variations aside, I can see no reason why the incidence of casual employment might start rising again. What many, however, do expect is a growth in various forms of independent contracting associated with the rise in the gig economy. It thus may be that new forms of self-employment will displace some forms of casual employment. However, we must again remember that the trend in self-employment has been downwards – establishing and operating your own business would seem to be much harder in the 21st century than in the past.

Any thoughts around perceived financial security (e.g. ability to get a mortgage, loan, etc.) and casuals? Do you see any hope for banks or policy to better support the 'happy' casual?

The premise underlying this question is obviously that casual employment is an impediment to obtaining a bank loan, which it is. Casual employment is a marker that a potential customer may be at risk of being unable to service a loan in the future. To me this is a good thing. Surely we do not want people taking on loans they cannot service? Unfortunately, as should have been clear from our recent Royal Commission into banking, Australian banks have been guilty of being too lenient in their lending practices. Casual employment has not been an obstacle to many Australians securing a loan they cannot service.

Casual employees should thus rightly face a problem securing loans, but this “problem” is not solved by re-labelling their job “permanent”. It is only solved by securing a job that is actually stable and less susceptible to economic shocks and downturns, which in turn require the acquisition of more education and skills.

Ultimately, I suspect casual employment has not been the barrier to obtaining housing loans that many think; rather it is employment in a low-skilled job that places them in their precarious position in the housing market.

Did you look at gender breakdowns? in the overtime analyses?

As a matter of coursed, we always distinguish between men and women in all of our analyses. Gender typically matters a lot.

But I am not sure what particular aspect of gender you are concerned with. You refer to overtime, which is a little outside the subject of the Colloquium. However, in other work I have looked at differences in working hours, though it is now very dated. What we know is there are marked differences in working hours reflecting the traditional gender divide, with many more women working part-time and many more men working long weeks (eg 50+ hours).

And as noted earlier, the working paper version of our job satisfaction study (Buddelmeyer et al 2013) also examines how working hours interact with employment type in affecting job satisfaction (and we separate men and women in these analyses).

What industry, occupation is there an uptrend in casualisation (and down trend)? further is there consideration for labour hire companies, some are able to bypass award rates and offer wages below this. I would suspect this practice is increasing?

HILDA Survey data suggest that, while the overall casual share has not changed much in 20 years, patterns do vary across industries. Examples include:

  • Industries with rising share: Agriculture, Construction, Accommodation and food services, Transport
  • Industries with U-shape (fall then rise): Manufacturing
  • Industries with declining share: Wholesale trade, Retail trade, Information media and telecommunications.

With respect to labour hire:

(i) Most labour hire workers are “employees” and therefore award conditions apply.

(ii) There is no evidence of any growth in the share of agency workers. In fact, the HILDA Survey data suggests the share has declined (see Inga Laß and Mark Wooden. 2020. Trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment in Australia. Journal of Industrial Relations 62(1), February, 3-32.)

(iii) I suspect this comment relates to self-employed contractors who agencies help find work for. Award conditions do not apply to the self-employed.

But again I re-iterate that the self-employment share is in long-term decline. And this is also true of the sub-group of owner managers of unincorporated businesses that do not employ anyone. (The ABS did report a rise in August 2020, but the number is still below the level a year earlier.)

Is there a way to incentivize employers transitioning their workers out of casual work using contracts depending on the service they were providing and ensuring consistent funding?

I would need more context / information to be able to attempt a sensible response here.

Any comments on "under-employment"?

Casual employees are far more likely to be underemployed than permanent employees. In part this is because casual employment tends to involve part-time hours. But even among part-time workers the incidence of underemployment is much higher among casual employees than permanent (or fixed-term contract) employees. HILDA Survey data indicate that in 2018, 46% of all part-time casual employees prefer more hours of work, which compares with 27% of permanent party-time employees.

Nevertheless, while there has been no trend increase in casual employment over the last two decades, underemployment has continued to steadily rise. This would seem to imply that the growth in underemployment is mainly a function of a growth in the number of permanent part-time jobs.

Any data on length of time as a casual/in insecure employment? Is it a ‘transient’ state as one moves through one’s career?

The question of the extent to which casual employment (and other forms of non-standard employment) is a transient state was the subject of the following paper:

  • Duncan McVicar, Mark Wooden, Inga Laß and Yin-King Fok. 2019. Contingent employment and labour market pathways: bridges or traps? European Sociological Review 35(1), February, 98-115.

We identify eight main types of labour market pathways (though this risks being an over simplification of the diversity of experiences). This included one group dominated by persistent casual employment and or churning between casual employment and other states, and a second group dominated by transitions from casual employment into permanent employment. The two groups were roughly equal in size.

Does casual employment take advantage of people’s present bias...that is we aren’t very good at planning for the future and our future self needs (eg sick leave)?

Our research suggests that, especially among men, there is a long-term wage penalty to casual employment. This suggests that when faced with a choice between casual and permanent, the better long-term decision would be to take the permanent job. Given we do not see much evidence of workers seeking conversion to permanent, this does suggest that many workers that “choose” casual employment may be making a mistake, something that is likely encouraged by the presence of the award wage premium.


  • Irma Mooi-Reci and Mark Wooden. 2017. Casual employment and long-term wage outcomes. Human Relations 70(9), September, 1064-1090.

With the casual workforce, there was little difference by gender, was there any difference by age groups?

Job satisfaction varies with age, and is highest at both ends of the age distribution – among the very young and the very old. Of course, there are selection issues going on here, which will be strongest among the oldest and youngest workers. As noted earlier (Q2), there is no evidence that the patterns of satisfaction among young workers with respect to different types of employment differ from that for prime-age workers. The same appears to be true for the oldest workers.

Are there differences by country of birth differences in the casual workforce?  and their satisfaction with those?

This is something I have not previously examined, but nevertheless, it is a simple matter to extract data on this from the HILDA Survey. Note, however, that the HILDA Survey data are less than ideal for studying immigrant populations because of the absence of any mechanism for automatically recruiting recent immigrant arrivals into the sample.

That said, the simple raw data from wave 18 reveal that immigrant workers differ in one respect from Australian-born workers – they are noticeably less likely to be employed in a casual job. I suspect, however, that this is entirely a function of the older age of the immigrant cohorts.

Differences in job satisfaction are small, with immigrants tending to be less satisfied, but again I suspect this is largely explained by the difference in average age.