A study of the relationship between casual and permanent employees in an Australian higher education institution
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 22:02 authored by Asmita Pokharel
The Australian labour market is experiencing a remarkable shift away from a traditional full time work arrangement to more precarious forms of employment arrangement, with work defined by insecurity and irregularity for many. Given the current global, political and economic climate, casualisation is likely to be a continuing and increasing feature of the Australian labour market - and this in turn has created a high level of disparity between workers. Such disparity has the potential to strain the relationship between permanent and casual employees, leading to further deterioration in the workplace environment, with the risk of further marginalising or disadvantaging casual employees. Given their already vulnerable and disadvantaged employment position, casual workers would seem to be at further risk of a form of social or cultural exclusion from work culture and community. The primary purpose of this study was to examine the peer relationship between casual and permanent academics (focusing upon the above issues of workplace harmony and social justice) in the Australian Higher Education sector. The Higher Education sector was particularly salient for this study as it is also one of the largest user of casual employees. This study utilized a single university case study, adopting qualitative research methods, based on semi structured interviews. Interviews were deemed to be the most suitable method for this research as by examining the ways that permanent and casual staff talk about each other, we have the potential to elicit views, experiences and more general values that these subjects may hold regarding the work and status of their colleagues. A sample of 10 participants, 5 casual academics, 4 permanent academics and 1 permanent professional staff member were chosen from one university in NSW, Australia. The findings of this study were revealing. Contra to expectations, we did not find tensions or difficulties in the relationship between casual and permanent employees. In fact, there was a considerable amount of trust, respect and understanding among all permanent staff about their casual co-workers and vice versa. There was no evidence of such attitude or behaviour that made their casual colleagues feel ignored and ostracized. Most of the permanent staff had serious reservations and objections to casualization of the workforce. However, as the research process progressed it became apparent that casual workers did feel marginalized, discriminated and excluded from the work culture and community. The findings indicated that university's management and system was chiefly responsible for such exclusionary and differential treatment of casual academics, denying them access to basic facilities, limiting opportunity for voice and excluding them from social gathering and meetings. This double isolation of casual employees, according to the participants, was the result of the nature of the academic environment which was considered fairly solitary and because of the nature of casual job which is irregular and indeterminate.