Young workers and the future of service employment
Young service workers have been at the forefront of repeated public scandals about working conditions but are now regarded as critical to the recovery and growth of the Australian economy. Labour shortages and public debates about wages mean that this is a delicate moment for the Australian economy. How we respond to this situation will set a precedent for public discussions about the future of work and the place of service workers in social and political life. In this context, this project explores how young workers’ political agency can support the long-term sustainability of the service economy, and how the social and political relations of service work are transforming. It explores how young service workers negotiate their status, conditions and working relationships, and how service employment facilitates or limits their social and political participation.
Through a focus on youth, this project examines the changing relationship between labour and civic life in post-industrial societies. Work is fundamental to other forms of social participation. It is a key obligation of citizenship, a foundation for social status, and a gateway to social connectedness. Service workers are assumed to be disempowered, but a focus on youth speaks to new definitions of social and political participation with the potential to revitalise how we think about the relationship between work and politics. By studying the intersection between new forms of politics and transformations in the nature of work, this project sheds new light on the political dimensions of post-industrial labour.
This project will engage young workers in three industries: retail, hospitality and call centres. A total of 120 young workers in these industries will be interviewed, and a smaller selection of these will then be asked to complete video-diaries about their experiences of work. Later, the project will run focus groups and a collaborative policy forum that will involve young workers in formulating policy solutions to issues facing them in the workplace and in civic life.
This evidence base will support efforts to improve the resilience and productivity of the service economy and enhance the social relations of service labour at a time of economic crisis. It will benefit policymakers, employers and worker representatives aiming to engage and support this diverse labour force. The project will produce reports, academic articles and a website with videos foregrounding workers’ voices and narratives.