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What Is Precarious Work?

Amanda R. Bell
Amanda R. Bell

In general, the definition of precarious work is any type of employment that differs from a long-term job with one employer in which person lacks security in his or her position, finances, or physical safety. This typically occurs in jobs that are less than full-time, lack security against lay-offs, or provide wages that cannot support an individual or family. A job is also typically considered precarious work if the overseeing company does not allow employees to have input in their working conditions.

Precarious work is often defined loosely as a job that is less than full-time, although many standard part-time positions do not meet the other general definitions of this type of work. Most commonly, seasonal jobs or employment provided to traveling workers, where an individual is only hired for a specific amount of time rather than long-term, is considered precarious work. Contracted or on-call work, where an individual completes a single project for a company without promise of additional work, or where a person sporadically provides work for a company on an as-needed basis, are also considered precarious.

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Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Any job that lacks security of employment, whether full-time or not, is typically considered precarious work. In general, a position with an at-will company that can dismiss an individual without warning falls into this category. Jobs with companies that employ full-time workers on a long-term contract deal, rather than providing a limitless potential for future employment, are also often included.

While income level is a determining factor in whether a job is labeled as precarious work, the amount of money earned that will provide employees with financial security varies drastically by the local economy. A low-wage job in many parts of Europe that cannot support an individual or family may provide a person or household in another area of the world with a comfortable lifestyle. While part of the definition of precarious work is a lower-than-livable income, there is no definitive number for this, making this portion of the definition the most subjective. Generally, if a person cannot afford the necessities to live, such as food, shelter, and clothing, based on his or her income from a job, it is considered a high-risk position. In some cases, a person or establishment may consider a job financially insecure if the income cannot support an individual, while others may believe the job is considered such if the income cannot support a family.

Positions in which employees do not have a say in the working standards or safety procedures employed at the job are also considered risky. This definition of precarious work is typically used by unions in regards to companies that do not have unionized workers. Despite this, oftentimes this aspect of this type of employment is based on whether or not employees have the right to unionize, even if they decide not to do so.

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