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The Evolving Work Environment in New Zealand: Implications for Occupational Health and Safety - NOHSAC Technical Report 10

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6.8.3   Part-time employment

Turning to the question of ongoing part-time employment (as distinct from temporary part-time employment), a review undertaken in 2001[179] only identified a handful of studies, the majority of which, unlike all other categories examined, found generally positive OHS outcomes. It is important to note that many of the studies reviewed were confined to assessing health outcomes in the healthcare sector and may not be representative, given labour market conditions specific to that sector, notably the shortage of nurses.

As noted earlier, there is research suggesting that, for some groups, positive health outcomes do not necessarily mean a similar outcome with regard to safety. Multiple job holding by part-time workers also has to be recognised as another complicating factor, with a recent Australian study finding that about one-fifth of permanent part-time workers surveyed held a second job.[41]

6.8.4   Multiple Job Holding, On-Call Work and Turnover

Beyond the earlier reported impacts of precarious work on occupational health and safety, there is little research dedicated to multiple job holding, on-call work or turnover and OHS. There are some obvious impacts of each on OHS, though. High turnover rates often lead to poor training for workers, which can impact on OHS. Agriculture, forestry and fishing – an industry associated with high turnover rates – also has one of the highest work-related claims.[191]Multiple job holding often leads to increased working hours, which, in turn, affects OHS, while on-call work can create stress and fatigue in the workplace.

6.8.5   Impact on permanent workers

Some researchers have identified spillover effects whereby the presence of contingent workers increased the training, supervision and administrative workload on permanent workers.[155] This may not only impact on the health and wellbeing of permanent workers trying to juggle additional tasks (not factored into their workload), but can also contribute to a breakdown of OHS management practices (such as communication between workgroups or the provision of adequate training for a new task) that endangers other workers. Further, a number of studies indicate that temporary and labour hire workers receive less in-house training, both in terms of quantity and quality/intensity, with potential implications across a range of issues including OHS. (See, for example, Draca and Green.[192])

A Quebec study of education professionals (teachers and technicians) and social workers by Siefert et al.[193] found that precarious work contracts could adversely affect mental health, not only through job insecurity but also because associated changes in work organisation had negative effects on the ability of workers to do their job, take pride in their work and develop critical interpersonal relationships in the workplace. In sum, the presence of contingent workers may lead to a weakening of job competencies, OHS management practices and regulatory oversight/compliance. In her recent thesis on temporary agency workers,[14] Underhill has documented numerous examples of these sorts of breakdowns, drawn from the workers’ compensation records of WorkCover Victoria over an extended period. Underhill’s study identified tensions/isolation in the relationship of agency and in-house workers, and other studies[194,195,196] have identified that the type of employment relationship is associated with differences in organisational commitment.

The implications of this for OHS are unknown but unlikely to be positive (see earlier discussion of disorganisation) except in terms of coping with downsizing. Clarke[197] has argued that the workforce diversity resulting from the growth of contingent work makes it harder for organisations to develop/retain a safety culture, while Zeytinoglu and Denton[198] have pointed to the disruptive effects of worker turnover amongst homecare workers. Connections have also been drawn between precarious employment, financial stress, poor work-life balance and intense work systems with burnout, high mean General Health Questionnaire scores and even suicide.[199-202] A recent New Zealand study[203] found that higher rates of suicide existed for people employed in farming, fisheries or forestry, and trades occupations. It should be noted that these occupations involve high levels of self-employment and other forms of contingent work. Such possible connections require further rigorous investigation.

Apart from Gunningham and Johnstone’s two-tiered approach,[204] most of the measures just mentioned take little, if any, account of how work and workplaces have been reshaped, the fracturing of production and service provision utilising elaborate domestic and international supply chains, and an equally fractured labour market (utilising self-employed subcontractors, agency workers, direct hire temporary and permanent employees, fixed-term and on-call employees as well immigrant and temporary resident foreign-born workers such as students, backpacker tourists and guestworkers). There are some exceptions, though this activity is fragmented and mostly directed towards safety rather than health hazards. For example, in the USA, the introduction of a safety management process followed disastrous petrochemical incidents in the 1980s where it was recognised that the use of contract workers without adequate induction, training or supervision was a contributing factor.[205] Similarly, the introduction of the internal control regulation in Norway was, in part, inspired by problems of control of subcontractors in the offshore oil industry.[206] In France, a parliamentary inquiry into the disastrous explosion and fire at the AZT chemical factory in Toulouse recommended that a ban be placed on multi-tiered subcontracting in ‘Seveso’ high-hazard workplaces.[207] This recommendation sparked opposition and was not adopted, highlighting the importance of evidentiary contributions to policy debates.

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