Non-standard forms of employment

ILO: Non-standard forms of employment, a feature of the contemporary world of work

Ensuring decent work for all non-standard forms of employment (NSFE) will require specific policies.

Communiqué de presse | 14 novembre 2016
© Núcleo Editorial
GENEVA (ILO News) – Specific policies are needed to improve the quality of non-standard jobs, a new ILO report says.

The report, Non-standard employment around the world: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects highlights that non-standard jobs can provide access to the labour market, including of disadvantaged groups such as youth or migrants, and in some instances, can provide opportunities for moving to better jobs. In addition, NSFE can provide flexibility to both enterprises and workers, especially when part-time work is chosen voluntarily.

The report cautions, however, that some forms of non-standard employment can be associated with greater insecurities for workers. In countries where NSFE are widespread, workers risk cycling between non-standard jobs and unemployment.

The report identifies the policies needed to improve the quality of non-standard jobs, while helping enterprises to adjust to market’s volatility. The report finds that there has been a rise in non-standard forms of employment (NSFE) globally, including increases in temporary work, part-time work, temporary agency work and subcontracting, dependent self-employment and disguised employment relationships.

“Non-standard forms of employment are not new, but they have become a more widespread feature of contemporary labour markets. We need to make sure that all jobs, regardless of their contractual arrangement, provide workers with adequate and stable earnings, protection from occupational hazards, social protection and the right to organize and bargain collectively,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

In some cases, particularly where contractual arrangements have blurred the employment relationship, there is evidence that workers have difficulty exercising their fundamental rights at work, or gaining access to social security benefits and on-the-job training. Injury rates are also higher among workers in NSFE.

Short-term cost and flexibility gains from using NSFE may be outweighed by longer-term productivity losses.”

Philippe Marcadent, ILO Expert
Well-designed and regulated NSFE can help enterprises to respond and adapt to market demands, contributing to enterprise sustainability and growth. But widespread use of NSFE can also have important and underappreciated consequences for businesses. “Short-term cost and flexibility gains from using NSFE may be outweighed by longer-term productivity losses. There is evidence that firms that use NSFE more, tend to underinvest in training, both for temporary and permanent employees, as well as in productivity-enhancing technologies and innovation,“ said Philippe Marcadent, Chief of the unit that produced the report.

The report identified key trends in NSFE. In industrialized countries, the diversification of part-time work into “very short hours” or “on-call” work, including “zero-hours” contracts (with no guaranteed minimum hours), has parallels with casual work in developing countries. In the UK, 2.5 per cent of employees were on zero-hours contracts at the end of 2015. Ten per cent of the workforce in the US have irregular and on-call work schedules, with the lowest-income workers the most affected.

In Bangladesh and India, nearly two-thirds of wage employment is casual; in Mali and Zimbabwe, one of three employees is casual. In Australia, where casual employment is a specific employment category, one out of four employees is casual.

Asian countries have witnessed the growth of various forms of dispatched, agency, subcontracted or outsourced work. In Indian manufacturing, contract labour reached 34.7 per cent in 2011–12, up from negligible levels in the early 1970s.

Although NSFE has become more widespread, the report found there are important divergences in the use of NSFE among firms, even within the same country and industry. Among private-sector firms in over 150 countries, more than half of enterprises did not use temporary labour, whereas around 7 per cent used it intensively (with more than half of their workforce on temporary contracts). Policy recommendations

The report advances four policy recommendations that can contribute to enhance the quality of non-standard jobs:
  • First, plugging regulatory gaps – including policies that ensure equal treatment among workers regardless of their contractual arrangement; policies establishing minimum guaranteed hours and limiting the variability of working schedules; legislation and enforcement to address employment misclassification; restricting some uses of non-standard employment to address abuse, and assigning obligations and responsibilities in employment arrangements that involve multiple parties.
  • Second, strengthening collective bargaining – including by building the capacity of unions to represent workers in NSFE and extending collective agreements to cover all workers in a sector or occupational category. In addition, all workers must have access to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.
  • Third, strengthening social protection by eliminating or lowering thresholds on minimum hours, earnings or duration of employment; making systems more flexible with regards to contributions required to qualify for benefits, allowing for interruptions in contributions and enhancing the portability of benefits. These changes should be complemented by universal policies guaranteeing a basic level of social protection.
  • Fourth, instituting employment and social policies that support job creation and that accommodate workers’ needs not only for training, but also for family responsibilities such as childcare and elder care.