Letter to Labor - Job Insecurity & the Precariousness of Work

This is the first of three 'Letters to Labor' to be developed by Victorian Fabians as a result of a series of interactive events designed to collect Fabians' thoughts on three major issues identified by our members as 'keeping them awake at night'. The ideas from each event are collected together into a 'Letter to Labor' to help inform the policy agenda. The first event, from which this letter is derived, discussed job insecurity and the precariousness of work. Copies of the letter have been forwarded to the opposition leader (Anthony Albanese), the Shadow Treasurer (Dr Jim Chalmers), and the Shadow Minister for the Future of Work (Clare O’Neill). Special thanks goes to Max Dumais, our 'Zing Master', for running these events.





6 June 2019

The Hon Anthony Albanese
Leader of the Opposition
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT  2600


The Australian Labor Party has a proud tradition in addressing the changing nature of employment and industry conditions through the transitions from a farm and factories economy to the emerging education, electronics and entertainment economies.

In the immediate post-war period (1945) Labor presented a vision of Full Employment. In 1964 the White Paper on Employment and Industry set out a plan for education, skills and workforce development. In 1983 the Hawke Government introduced the Wages Accord with the concept of the social wage and benefit trade off and in 1994 the Keating Government generated the Working Nation outline.

On 19 October 2017 the Senate established the Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, chaired by ALP Senator Murray Watt, to inquire and report on the impact of technological and other change on the future of work and workers in Australia. By September 2018 the Committee released its report stating that "hope is not a strategy - our shared responsibility is for the future of work and workers".

The nature of work in Australia is transforming at an alarming rate. Manufacturing has declined dramatically with thousands of skilled workers sidelined, especially given the demise of the car manufacturing industry and the increasing substitution of capital-intensive workplaces with an associated reduction in the proportion of entry-level, labour-intensive job opportunities.

A major implication of the changing nature of work and employment is the impact this has on the education and training systems required to prepare for it. In those programs we need to clarify the requisite learning objectives, and design innovative and effective environments for learning, which is now a lifelong prerequisite. This is particularly so given the implications that the latest technological revolution has for sufficient and real resourcing to meet those changes and to respect the dignity and contribution of people in a changing workforce.

It is increasingly important to address the need for greater levels of employment security and to reduce anxiety about automation, globalisation, income inequalities and the implicit fear experienced by many discouraged workers. Labor must continue its role of contributing to the redesign and redirection of jobs and working life to restore confidence, reconstruct economic and social inclusion and revitalise national, regional and community development. Unlike the government forces that capitalise and exploit fear, Labor must position itself as the Party that champions policies that bolster a sense of individual and family financial security.

At the end of May, thirty or more members of the Fabian Society in Victoria met to capture their thinking around this issue and to assist in composing a ‘Letter to Labor’ from rank and file supporters of Labor to provide a focus and some suggestions.

First off, their attention was given to the type of work that might evolve as we move forward to 2050. The five key areas identified included roles based around engaging with the community, making a social contribution, fostering creativity, building on the contribution of technology and capitalising on the emerging roles involved in human entertainment

Key concerns raised in considering the transition from an industrial society towards a knowledge and services society include a clear consideration of the future role and nature of paid jobs and new opportunities for work. Just as there is growing recognition of a pending crisis in our climate, there is an urgent need to recognise a crisis in the transition posed by the future nature of work

Forum members believe that there is a need for wider consultation across the nation to address the implications arising from new forms of income distribution as more and more people are no longer engaged in work, the industrial relations issues arising from such a transition, the ways and means of supporting industry and commercial initiatives, and the support required to promote personal growth and development given these circumstances.

In Attachment A there are a wide range of suggested considerations that could and should form the basis for an extended process of community engagement in workplaces, community meetings and policy discussions. The range and scope of these suggestions reflects the necessity to consolidate and simplify the approaches to rising levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This may lead to a questioning of the effectiveness of Labor’s role in addressing such matters. It may be reflected in declining membership in traditional industrial unions.

There are rising levels of frustration with government failure to meet its commitments and address appropriate expressions of concern about large companies adopting automation and technology without accepting any responsibility for either their intended or unintended consequences.

As an initial step to an engagement of all impacted workers and community members, it is suggested that Labor promote the initiative of a nation-wide consultation to increase commitment to the security of jobs and work through a Future Work Commission as an extension of the Productivity Commission.

During this initial consultation process involving the Victorian Fabians, the following policy initiatives Labor should seek to be addressed by a Future Work Commission to lay the foundations for a fair and equitable Australia were put forward:

Ensuring jobs for the future - Suggestions from Fabians members

  • Integrate a learning component as part of active industry policy where we are shaping what industries we want as well as scanning and identifying the training needs arising from vocational jobs.
  • Incorporate training into the workplace to ensure relevance and a hands-on approach to experiential learning.
  • Use international trade agreements as a foundation for the growth of quality work and Australia’s place on a global scale.
  • Address the realities and implications of a Universal Basic Income scheme to ensure whether it could be practical, affordable and an appropriate strategy in order to ensure a fair and equitable Australia.
  • Make aged care, health care and engagement as the common baseline of a Universal Basic Income security system to shift away from a waged and unwaged sector approach.
  • Develop a decisive framework to transition to a renewable energy industry that secures work and incorporate a compassionate social safety net that lifts people into a high quality of life as opposed to descending into a poverty trap.
  • Put a stop to the wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of government services.
  • Encourage transition industries now, with plans for a just transition (through economic, social and ecologically balanced work)
  • Create a Green New Deal as a component of a federal Job Guarantee initiative.
  • Reform the industrial relations system to restore balance and return to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission with minimum wage and industry awards.
  • Provide basic protection for insecure workers which was the norm in the past and is the real case for a minimum wage through Industry awards rather than Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.
  • Ensure more diversity of media ownership and restrict capacity of the wealthy to purchase political influence.
  • Reintroduce free education with a cradle to grave secular education policy based on government delivery.
  • Address current barriers to education, including socio-economic issues such as poverty, geographic access, teacher and resource access. In one word – restore Gonski!
  • Undertake meaningful national planning which is based on a social democratic approach to dealing with the precariousness of work, especially during the transition into the future of work.
  • Trade and industry policy should support quality work and be planned collaboratively with the involvement all stakeholders.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the members of this Fabian Forum.


Dr Julia Thornton
Australian Fabians (Victorian Branch)

CCs Hon. Dr Jim Chalmers              Hon. Clare O’Neill
        Shadow Treasurer.                       Shadow Minister for the Future of Work


A PDF of the full document - including the appendix with questions and answers canvassed at the forum - is available here.

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  • Tony Thomas
    commented 2019-08-24 12:33:10 +1000
    Labor has to win an election before any of these policies could be implemented. Remembering the current rejection of Bill Shorten’s plans it is unlikely that the Labor leadership has any stomach for reform. It is this cowardice and lack of leadership which has led to the current state of craven bipartisanship. This renders the long list of Fabian suggestions for reform otiose.
  • David Hall
    commented 2019-07-18 17:36:07 +1000
    The letter presents a fair and reasonable – if highly ambitious! – ‘agenda’ for the Labor Opposition to consider in depth. Has there been any response?!
    Might I suggest that Andrew Leigh also be sent the letter. His sustained interest in issues of equality and fair access bode well.
    I presume that the Centre for Future Work is fully engaged with this Fabian initiative.