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Contractors less stressed

WEST Australians working on contract appear to be getting fewer benefits than those on permanent staff but overall cost savings, arising from recruiting temporary labour, appear to be marginal.

Contract staff tend to have higher educational qualifications but they do not obtain benefits like getting paid sick leave, maternity or paternity leave.

They suffer from a lack of understanding when they seek to use paid holiday leave to look after sick family members.

Temporary staff are, however, more likely to get benefits such as employer provided English training and employer subsidised childcare.

Contract staff are less likely to think about leaving their present organisation and report that they put in more effort than permanents.

They also work longer hours per week than their permanent colleagues.

These are among the findings of the research paper Flexibility in Employment which I compiled with School of Management researcher Douglas Davies at Curtin Business School (CBS).

The CBS paper is based on research data known as the 1995 Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey, collected by the Commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations (AWIRS95).

The main survey had a population of 2,001 workplaces with 20 or more employees, from all states and territories, and all industries except agriculture, forestry, fishing and defence.

It represented more than 37,200 workplaces employing 3.6 million people.

Eight per cent of the respondents were on contract, 90 per cent permanent, with the rest undecided.

Men are more likely to be permanent than women and the younger a person is, the more likely they will be on a contract.

The trend towards contractors shows that organisations are hiring a nucleus of permanent staff, which receive the benefits an organisation can afford, and a penumbra of casual, contract staff to meet fluctuations in the business cycle.

Many contract people appear to be in professional or managerial areas, suggesting that firms are hiring people to meet demands for specific skills.

In Australia many government and private firms are adopting a contractual and casual approach to the hiring of labour. This is reflected in the large staff cuts in both the government and private sector, with increasing use being made of the so-called ‘peripheral’ workforce.

In many instances, that peripheral workforce is composed of former government employees.

It is interesting that contract staff feel their say in decision making has gone up significantly more than the influence permanent staff think non-contractors have.

Contract staff perceive an improvement in their opportunities to be involved in decision making and using their ideas in their work situation, compared to the permanent colleagues.

Contract staff believe their job satisfaction has increased more than their permanent colleagues and they believe their chances of promotion have also improved.

There is also a significant difference between permanent and contract staff over the perceived increase in the level of stress.

Permanent staff believe stress has increased more in the last 12 months than do contract staff.

This finding supports the view that lower levels of stress are related to higher levels of job satisfaction.

* Professor Lawson Savery is head of the Graduate School of Management at Curtin University of Technology’s Curtin Business School.

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