Friday, January 6, 2012

Teachers among many voices stifled by job insecurity

Recent coverage in The Age (No job security for new teachers; School success depends on a secure workforce) has highlighted the impact of job insecurity in Victoria's public education system, and its implications for the State's young people.

Letters yesterday and today have offered further perspectives. Mine focused on the stifling effect of job insecurity on workers in teaching and other vital community services speaking out in the public interest on serious problems in the critical services they deliver.

Here's the unedited version ("A revealing angle" following "Disillusionment then departure" in The Age):
The recent coverage and letters about declining job security for teachers should give pause to every parent who has noticed the surprising end-of-year departure of one or more teachers they may well have had the pleasure of meeting at parent-teacher interviews earlier in the year. That was the case for me, and your focus on the issue has provided a new lens through which to view this unacceptable phenomenon.

Unfortunately, it is a lens with a panoramic view, given that the very same strategy is employed by the Victorian Government across a range of important community services.

Strangely, we are supposed to be reassured that the 3600 jobs slated to disappear from the public service by the December budget update will be found through cuts not only from voluntary redundancies, but also, tellingly, via the failure to renew existing fixed-term contracts.

As well as the barriers to sustainable lives and a high quality workforce this "flexible" job insecurity threatens, there's another side to precarious employment in areas where the government is very sensitive to media criticism. Insecure workers are fearful, their ability to mobilise is fragmented, and the voicing of concern about serious public interest matters within vital service areas is stifled - think teachers, nurses and child protection workers, to name just three examples.

As the late French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, noted in 1997, job insecurity is everywhere now [1]. However, he saw its origins not only in economic rationalism, but also in political calculation. We should resist both if we wish to see the lives of workers valued, and to benefit from the stronger services they can offer with secure employment in which they are at liberty to speak out on problems in the system.

[1] Pierre Bourdieu, "Job insecurity is everywhere now",
Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market, New Press 1998

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