About 36 per cent of Australian jobs face a significant or high risk of automation, according to a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.
The OECD’s latest Employment Outlook estimates that across its 34 member countries, 14 per cent of existing jobs could disappear over the next 15 to 20 years, and 32 per cent are likely to change radically.
It also found Australia had one of the highest rates of casual workers among its members.
In Australia, one in four workers is a casual worker, and more than half of casual employees report having no guaranteed hours, the report observed.
The report defines casual jobs as “short part-time jobs” that involve working one to 19 hours per week.
Australia is among a number of other nations with high casual worker rates including Netherlands (21 per cent), Denmark (15 per cent) and Switzerland (13 per cent).
It said the rise in casual work may be partly driven by countries having special forms of atypical part-time contracts, which either involve “very short part-time hours or no established minimum hours at all, such as on-call work and zero-hour contracts”.
Youth underemployed and low paid
Although Australia was not as badly hit by the global financial crisis as many other developed countries, it has witnessed one of the largest increases in underemployment across OECD countries since 2007.
“Young people with medium- and high-level education have seen increases in their probability of low-paid employment in Australia since 2006,” the report noted, adding this increase was larger than the OECD average.
The likelihood of non-employment for young people who have left education has increased in Australia since 2007 from 10.5 per cent to 10.9 per cent. But it remained lower than the OECD average of 13.2 per cent.
“The labour market experiences of many young people and of those with less than tertiary education has worsened over the past decade,” the report observed.
“In fact, young people with less than tertiary education have been particularly affected, with more of them being under-employed, non-employed or receiving low pay.”
This finding tallies with Federal Government job vacancy figures that show a dramatic decline in ads for less-educated workers, while there has been a significant increase in demand for staff with university degrees.
The report’s release comes amid a debate about wages growth and job insecurity during the federal election campaign.
On Wednesday Labor leader Bill Shorten proposed laws allowing casuals to request permanent jobs after 12 months with the same company.
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Labor said, of the 2.6 million casuals in Australia, more than half have been with their current employer for 12 months and 192,000 for more than 10 years.
The party is also promising to boost the minimum wage, a plan that has drawn criticism from major business groups.
Time to upskill for future jobs
The report suggested that a large portion of adults will need to upskill or retrain to meet the needs of future jobs as automation replaces many less-skilled functions and, while new jobs will emerge, transitions will not be easy.
“The quantity of jobs may not fall, but job quality and disparities among workers may worsen,” the report warned.
The proportion of union members among employees fell from 45.6 per cent in 1986 to 13.7 per cent in 2018, the report noted.
Meanwhile, the percentage of employees covered by collective agreements declined from 83 per cent to 58.9 per cent over the same period.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria said greater focus must be placed on collective bargaining and social dialogue.
He also called on governments to invest in adult learning to help the most vulnerable deal with changes to work.
The report found 48.5 per cent of Australian adults participated in formal or non-formal job-related adult learning in 2012, which was above the OECD average of 40 per cent.
But this share dropped to 23 per cent for low-skilled adults, which is 42 percentage points lower than the participation rate for high-skilled adults.
“In the digital era, it is important that people feel that they will be supported if they lose out, and helped in their search for new and better opportunities,” Mr Gurria said.