Job Security in Australia: Broadening the Analysis

Article excerpt


Job security has become an important issue in OECD countries in recent years. In Australia the media regularly publish polls indicating that many Australian workers are insecure in their jobs (e.g. Trinca & Cleary 1997). The perception for many workers is that jobs are becoming less secure. Data from the International Social Science/ Australia Survey suggest that only 56% of Australian workers felt very secure, or fairly secure in their jobs in 1996/97, down from 73% in 1989/90 (cited in Kelley et al. 1998). Opinion poll findings suggest a clear trend towards increasing employment insecurity since 1975 (ACIRRT 1998: 128).

Against the qualitative survey data, evidence on job tenure and job turnover indicate stability of employment; and that, if anything, job stability is increasing (Norris 1993; Wooden 1998). In other words, the series suggest that perceptions about jobs have not been matched by changes in job tenure or job turnover. Hence the perceptions could be related to non-employment criteria, such as excessive media attention to unemployment and growing numbers of non-standard jobs (Smith 1997).

In this paper we investigate the apparent contradiction between perceptions of job security and the pertinent data in Australia. We look at the meaning and measurement of job security, and consider its importance at both the workplace level and economy wide. We further look at the determinants of job security and consider the array of relevant evidence. Finally, we argue that the discussion of job security in Australia has been conducted at a superficial and narrow level in terms of the definition, measurement, interpretation and analysis of the central concept. For this reason the debate needs to be broadened.

What is job security?

The first problem is one of terminology. There tends to be a number of different terms applied: job security (O'Donnell, Peetz & Allen 1998), job stability (Swinnerton & Wial 1995; Wooden 1998), employment security (Creighton 1994). We can take it that jobs and employment are synonyms, but stability and security do have different meanings. Stability covers such aspects as job tenure, job turnover and job classifications. In the discussion that follows we can regard stability as a subset of job security. However, the interpretations of security can and do differ in terms of their coverage and scope.

Job security can be interpreted at a number of different levels, as follows:

a. the probability of job loss: the likelihood that the current job will be terminated in the future;

b. the probability of income loss: the likelihood that the current job will not produce the same remuneration as it has in the past;

c. the probability of satisfaction loss: the likelihood that the current job will not produce the same levels of job satisfaction as in the past;

d. the probability of successful job search: the likelihood that you can get another job if your current job is terminated;

e. the probability of successful job search and income/satisfaction maintenance: the likelihood that you can get another job with the same income, conditions and job satisfaction if your current job is terminated.

You can feel secure in your employment if you are confident of job tenure, you are confident of income certainty and predicability, and you are confident of continuing job satisfaction. Often these different aspects of job security are interdependent, but not always. Work reorganisation and technological change might improve job tenure and income sustainability, but also reduce skill levels and worker autonomy. As a consequence, employees might feel alienated from the production process and insecure in their job in that they exert less autonomous control over work than they did in the past; as a consequence job satisfaction declines.

However, job insecurity can also be related to conditions external to the job. …