Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Health, Freedom and Work in Rural Victoria: The Impact of Labour Market Casualisation on Health and Wellbeing

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Health, Freedom and Work in Rural Victoria: The Impact of Labour Market Casualisation on Health and Wellbeing

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This paper is part of a wider project on the impact of insecure work conditions on rural Victorians. We report on in-depth interviews with 72 rural workers employed under insecure contracts. MacEachen, Polzer, and Clarke (2008, p. 1020) define 'fl exible work' as 'involving employment arrangements or schedules that vary from the traditional working day and week'. In this paper we adopt this definition but couch it in terms of 'insecure employment': employment that is formally unstable in the sense that work patterns may be irregular or uncertain, employment tenure limited or uncertain, and access to leave entitlements and protection against unfair dismissal restricted. In these respects, insecure employment can be contrasted with employment that is full-time and which provides access to a range of benefits and a regular work schedule (Tompa, Scott-Marshall, Dolinschi, Trevithick, & Bhattacharyva, 2007, p. 210).

In particular, we examine the impact on the health of workers and the effects of psychosocial stressors on their ability to ensure their health and control their lives. The paper is thus a contribution to our understanding of the crisis in rural health and of the impact of changes in the labour market on people's health (Judd & Humphrey, 2001; Leicht, Walter, Sainsaulieu, & Davies, 2009; Ramsay, 1996; Wainer & Chesters, 2000).

Previous studies have identified two major implications of casual/fl exible/insecure employment (D'Souza, Strazdins, Lim, Broom, & Rodgers, 2003; MacEachen et al., 2008). On the one hand the increased autonomy experienced by fl exible work contracts creates a sense of control and ownership for employees. This has a significant positive impact on a person's health and wellbeing both at work and away from work. Alternatively, the fl exibility is not possessed by the employee but is in fact dictated by the employer which leaves employees vulnerable and susceptible to signifi- cantly varying working hours, tasks and conditions. Positively, people who are in insecure employment may value the freedom to control the hours they work and the ability to negotiate working arrangements concerning their hours, leave and pay. Recent international studies have suggested that exercising autonomy in the workplace has a significant positive impact on people's health and wellbeing (Benz & Frey, 2004). In particular exercising autonomy in the work force is a major explanatory variable in predicting people's morbidity and mortality (Marmot, 2004; Marmot, Siegrist, Theorel, & Feeney, 1999). To the extent that insecure work allows workers more autonomy and freedom at work, it could make a major contribution to improving the health of workers in the rural sector. Negatively, insecure employment might disadvantage workers with few skills or bargaining power, impacting on their health (Artacoz, Benach, Borrell, & Cortes, 2005).

Earlier studies have focused on urban centred skilled, technological work places such as the computer software industry (MacEachen et al., 2008), healthcare, education and managerial consulting (Leicht et al., 2009) and other skilled professions (Rubery, Ward, Grimshaw, & Beynon, 2005). This skilled profession focus appears to be because of the rapid development in technology which allows people to work from home and the pace of competition between large multinational businesses highlights the changing nature of work. However, little research has been conducted on 'traditional' non-technological workplaces and particularly rural workplaces. This paper will review findings of other studies that have established the abovementioned results and then apply both to the rapidly developing structure of largely unskilled work in rural Victoria. We will conclude that in rural Victoria, especially with regards to non-skilled professions, the autonomy that results from the deregulation of working hours is in fact possessed solely by the employer at the expense of the employee. …

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