The Only Way Is up: The Recent Job Quality Trajectory in Australia

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.3.05 (Clement House)
Christopher Warhurst, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom
Sally Anne Wright, Warwick University, Coventry, United Kingdom
Stephan Whelan, Sydney University, Sydney, Australia
There are a number of possible job quality trajectories. In the last half of the twentieth century two sets of researchers were predicting different trajectories in the advanced economies – improvements or degradation (Carré at al. 2012). By century’s end, evidence showed a long-term trend of polarisation in job quality, as measured by pay, in Europe and the US as an outcome of employment restructuring.  This trend has been exacerbated by the global financial crisis of the 2000s and subsequent major job losses in these economies (Eurofound 2013; Kalleberg 2011). Across industrialised countries, Australia is unique in that it has experienced over two decades of uninterrupted economic growth while undergoing significant structural changes in employment.  Throughout the financial crisis, total employment in Australia continued to grow. The analysis in this paper employs the ‘jobs-based’ approach first developed by the US Council of Economic Advisors (then chaired by Joseph E. Stiglitz) (Wright and Dwyer, 2003), it has become the benchmark methodology for the EU to analyse employment change and job quality in Europe (Eurofound 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013). It divides jobs by pay level into quintiles, and tracks developments to these quintiles. It is used by Eurofound, the EU’s agency to improving living and working conditions, for its Global JOBS project, of which the Australian analysis is part. The analysis draws on two waves of the Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership Survey, collected as a supplement to the Labour Force Survey in Australia, and covering 2001-2010. The data relates to employees. Within a context of continuous job growth generally, the analysis shows that all quintiles experienced expansion. Notably though, most job growth occurred predominantly in higher paying jobs, indicating an upgrading of jobs in Australia over the period. There were however differences by sector, gender and other job quality markers. Overall however, and in contrast to developments in Europe and the US, Australia has experience a steady improvement in its job quality over the first decade of this century, including during the years of the global financial crisis. The paper concludes by offering tentative explanations for this development.


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Kalleberg, A.K. (2011) Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Wright, E. O. and Dwyer, R. (2003) ‘The patterns of job expansions in the USA: A comparison of the 1960s and 1990s’, Socio-Economic Review, 1:289-325.