When you have the constant threat of an eviction notice hanging over your head, the last thing you need is to be told you’re not needed at work next week.
A 2021 report from the ACT Young Workers Centre shone a light on the precarity of employment for young workers as they tried to keep up with everyday food and housing expenses during the pandemic.
International student Crown had to hop between jobs due to low pay and poor working conditions.
“In Australia, I had two part-time jobs. The first time was when I first came to Canberra, working in a sushi restaurant for a salary slightly below the minimum [wage],” they said.
“As I am new to the country and lack work experience, I didn’t have too many objections initially. The job lasted for about a few months, and then I decided to quit.”
“The second time, I became a delivery driver. My daily work was easy, and my salary was unstable depending on the number of orders that day. Sometimes I made $26 an hour, sometimes I didn’t have any money without orders.”
“This job lasted for about half a year, and then I quit my job due to the pandemic and the depreciation of my vehicle was too much,” Crown said.
For many workers like Crown the pandemic was just another push towards the ledge where insecure workers consistently find themselves teetering.
Australians aged 15-24 made up a staggering 55 per cent of job losses in 2021 alone. How, then, were young people living under a pandemic expected to make rent?
Home ownership a fading dream
The prospect of owning a home has become at most a fantasy for a swathe too many people, young and old. Many workers can’t meet the requirements for a loan, like massive deposits, when they’re still relying on pay that is far from a living wage or caught in a cycle of insecure, casual or temporary contract jobs.
The screening process to qualify for a mortgage demands evidence of a long-term, relatively high-earning salary and the bank expects you to guarantee the stability of that income into the future. How many of us in casual or insecure work can really say that we have that kind of job security?
Then there’s the added costs of deposits, bank fees, stamp duty and lenders’ mortgage insurance – a hefty sum for people who are forced to live pay-cheque to pay-cheque.
What’s more, the barriers to even renting a home, especially in metropolitan areas, have become increasingly difficult. Property managers and landlords seldom accept applications from workers who lack full-time employment and generous figures in their bank accounts.
Even with these things, there’s no guarantee that workers with an insecure job can make rental payments when housing prices have grown at six times the rate of wages.
But owning a home never had to be just a dream
This is a problem that undoubtedly plagues young Australians disproportionately. Why is this? Because young people are the generation faced with the most expensive housing, the least secure forms of work and the lowest wages comparatively.
Younger Australians are far more likely than older generations to be in casualised, award-reliant jobs in industries such as retail and hospitality, ‘gig work’ and fixed-term contracts.
The wages in these forms of employment pale in comparison to those in secure, full-time work. Hours for insecure workers regularly fluctuate, leaving young people habitually uncertain of how much they’re taking home on any given week.
And – as we know – banks and landlords have very little sympathy for this.
The normalisation of insecure work didn’t happen by accident. We just finished nine years of Liberal-National Governments and big business working hand in hand to keep wages low.
Massive corporations have time and time again shown that they would rather condemn workers to constant upheaval and unreliable jobs than treat them as human beings.
Despite this pushback, union members have had a huge win this week with the Fair Work Commission announcement of a 5.2 per cent increase to the national minimum wage.
But workers in unions continue the campaign to make a living wage a reality for all workers.
The living wage takes the idea of the minimum wage a step further – it makes sure that workers can maintain a decent standard of living.
A living wage would provide the means for workers to do more than just cover everyday essentials. We all want to be able to do more than just survive.
Insecure work creates a life where you keep your fingers crossed you don’t fall ill or have your hours cut.
A temporary freeze on rental evictions and rental increases during the pandemic alleviated some pain, but this protection is now gone. The continued housing and rental crisis shows how important it is to ensure workers – especially young workers – have secure jobs and decent wages.
Housing is a human right. When we deny young people secure employment, we are denying them secure housing.