Not all the data reported in Australia@Work follows the union line. The unions have persistently argued that WorkChoices reduces job security. For example, in the ACTU’s one year on report on WorkChoices, released in March this year, Sharran Burrow claimed:
Job security for Australian workers has been eroded – with 3,761,000 Australian workers employed in businesses with less than 100 staff having lost any protection from being unfairly dismissed.
Yet as I have argued in the past, there is little evidence that variations in employment law have much impact on how likely someone is to be dismissed. While statutes may make getting rid of unnecessary or incompetent employees more time-consuming and costly, it has nearly always been possible. Even where sacking is legally difficult, employers can encourage ‘voluntary’ departures by giving unwanted employees boring work, or treating them poorly.
In Australia@Work, employees were asked to agree or disagree with the statement that:
There is a good chance that I will lose my job or be retrenched within the next twelve months.
About 9% agreed or strongly agreed. I can’t find an exact pre-WorkChoices comparison point, but neither of the two 2005 surveys I have found suggest that things have deteriorated since. The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked:
To what extent, if at all, do you worry about the possibility of losing your job?
5.6% worried a great deal, and 13.8% worried to some extent.
Roy Morgan Research asked:
Do you think your present job is safe, or do you think there’s a chance you may become unemployed?
15% said that they though there was a chance that they would become unemployed.
These questions do prompt slightly different considerations. It is possible to worry about job loss without thinking it is likely in the next twelve months (the preceding Morgan question had mentioned 12 months, so that is the likely time frame for their respondents). And people can worry about becoming unemployed without thinking that they will be sacked, such as leaving a job voluntarily and then not being able to find another one. But overall the Australia@Work data is consistent with job security, both objectively and subjectively, being at or near the highest levels since statistics started being collected.
Unfortunately, the Australia@Work report does not break subjective job security down by employer size, which would be interesting as unfair dismissal laws do not apply in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees (though they do have data on employer size; given the political agenda being pushed by John Buchanan and colleagues I will take a guess that they have calculated the figure and it did not produce the expected result).
They do however break the data down by skill level. Unsurprisingly, the greater your skill level the less likely you are to think that your job is threatened. Those most worried about about job loss are those who had been unemployed in March 2006 (17.6%). This is probably due to a mix of objective factors – as unemployment is correlated with weak skills – and subjective factors, with the well-being research suggesting that unemployment can have a ‘scarring’ effect on the minds of the previously unemployed even after they have returned to work.
Overall though, as with previous job security research, Australia@Work confirms that the vast majority of workers feel secure in their jobs. This is not because the law protects them. It is because employers need them.