While the unemployment rate is at a record low, the number of people working multiple jobs is at an all-time high. Workers everywhere with full-time day jobs are spending their nights, weekends or even lunch breaks driving Ubers, cleaning houses or taking up casual customer service shifts.
These workers are not picking up ‘side hustles’ as passion projects, and they’re not among the masses who are embracing the ‘great resignation’ and leaving 9-5 jobs in pursuit of alternative work that promises freedom and flexibility. These workers – nearly one million of us – are picking up second, third and even fourth jobs as a vital means to an end: earning enough to survive.
When wages are lagging so far behind the cost-of-living, it’s hardly surprising that one income is no longer enough. Across industries, workplaces and occupations, wages have been going backwards in real terms for the better part of ten years. In the face of rising costs in the supermarket, at the petrol pump and on our energy bills, that singular paycheque per fortnight just doesn’t cut it.
Take one of the hardest-hit industries: aged care. Aged care workers across Australia, unable to pay their bills on an award rate, are supplementing their income with side-hustles that often pay better. Childcare workers are plagued with the same problem, many of whom hold second jobs because their primary job pays so little.
The rise of the gig economy and casualisation has meant that for those workers who are in desperate need of a second job – but one that can fit around the constraints of their primary job – the options are aplenty. A classic example here is Uber.
Uber was a pioneer in the early stages of the gig economy. Their proposition to workers was appealing at first: Got a car? That’s all you need! You can drive when you want, where you want for as long as you want – whatever suits you.
But the alluring sales pitch ends when you read the fine print: But there’s a catch: You’ll be paid in a cut of our earnings, expected to cover the cost of your own petrol, and it’s not our problem if you’re too sick to work today.
Indeed, Uber is not alone among the architects of the gig economy who have capitalised on the ‘flexibility’ of insecure work by creating a new form of work that is grossly unregulated. Employers everywhere have found a treasure chest of labour hire, dodging their responsibilities to pay real wages, superannuation and leave by adopting a workforce made up almost entirely of independent contractors.
The Transport Workers’ Union has done their bit in remedying this, signing a landmark deal earlier this year with rideshare services to protect the enforceable rights of drivers. But these problems will continue to linger where employers are able to exploit a business model that circumvents the regulatory framework that unions have been building for decades.
To the near million workers around the country who are struggling on a singular income, it feels like there’s no real choice to be made: Every dollar counts – it’s time to get into the driver’s seat and get those bills paid/put that food on the table/barely make those mortgage repayments. What alternative is there? Being enveloped in an anxiety-inducing constant burn-out cycle – wake up, go to one job, then another, eat, sleep (in what little time there is in between), rinse, repeat – is just an inevitable lifestyle consequence.
But there is an alternative: a future Australia where our workforce is made up of secure, reliable jobs that deliver paycheques that rise with the cost-of-living. A future Australia that enables workers to not only earn a single living wage but for the living standards of all Australians to rise. A future Australia which is worth fighting for.
Australia can be – and must be – so much better than this. Join your union and together we can restore job stability and fairer wages for all.