Precarious Work

Child labourer works at sandstone in a South India quarry.

Child labourer works at sandstone in a South India quarry.


Worldwide there is a growing incidence of precarious work producing heightened vulnerability for populations in both richer, industrialised nations as well as poorer ones.  Efforts to reduce the absolute numbers of working poor have stalled, with an estimated 327 million people continuing to live in extreme poverty, and 967 more in moderate and near poverty (International Labor Office 2016: 19). Most of the working poor toil outside legal regulation.  They are what is known as ‘informal workers’. Problematically, any reduction in poverty rates has not been accompanied by a decrease in the rate of informal work. According to the International Labour Organisation’s estimates, employment, as a percentage of non-agricultural employment, continues to account for over 50 per cent of all employment in half of the countries with comparable data. In one-third of countries, it affects over 65 per cent of workers (International Labor Office 2016: 19).

For the working poor, it’s hard to get a break.  They are constantly churning from one job to another, living hand to mouth.  They struggle to provide for their children, often having to call on their children to get jobs done and meet deadlines, pulling them away from the studies that would put them in a better position than their parents in the future. They feel forced to accept dangerous and unhealthy workplaces. They often cannot afford healthcare, with long term intergenerational impact on well-being.

The increase in the numerical incidence of precarious and informal work is one of the most significant causes of the growing wage gap which is drawing increasing attention from policy makers and commentators. 

See also my blog posts under the keyword 'Precarious Work.'

Shelley at an ILO workshop in Thailand

Shelley at an ILO workshop in Thailand



Marshall S. & Fenwick, C. (eds.), Labour Regulation and Development, Edward Elgar/ILO, 2016.


Journal articles (refereed)

Marshall, S., How Does Institutional Change Occur? Two Strategies for Reforming the Scope of Labour Law, (2014) 43(3) Industrial Law Journal, 286.

Anderson, K., Marshall, S., Mitchell, R. & Ramsay, I., Union Shareholder Activism in the Context of Declining Labour Law Protection: Four Australian Case Studies (2007) 15 Corporate Governance: An International Review 45.

Marshall, S. & Mitchell, R., Enterprise Bargaining, Managerial Prerogative and the Protection of Workers' Rights: An Argument on the Role of Law and Regulatory Strategy in Australia under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth) (2006) 22(3) International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 299.


book chapters

Marshall, S., Using a Historical Institutionalist Approach to Assess the Cambodian Better Factories Project, in The Evolving Project of Labour Law, Howe, J. & Ingrid Landau, I. (eds.) Federation Press, (accepted for publication).

Marshall S. & Fenwick, C.,, Labour Law and Development: Characteristics and Challenges, in Labour Regulation and Development, Marshall S. & Fenwick, C. (eds.), Edward Elgar/ILO, 2016.

 Marshall, S., Revitalising Labour Market Regulation for the Economic South: New Forms and Tools, in Labour Regulation and Development, Marshall S. & Fenwick, C. (eds.), Edward Elgar/ILO, 2016..

Marshall, S., ‘Australian Textile Clothing and Footwear Supply Chain Regulation’, in Legal Protection of Workers’ Human Rights: Regulatory Change and Challenge, Fenwick, C. & Novitz, T. (eds.), Hart, 2010, pp.555-584..

Marshall, S., ‘An Exploration of Control in the Context of Vertical Disintegration, and Regulatory Responses’, in Labour Law and Labour Market Regulation: Essays in the Construction, Constitution, and Regulation of Labour Markets and Work Relationships, Arup, C. et al. (ed.), Federation Press, 2006, pp.542-560.


monographs/research reports/other

Fenwick, C., Howe, J., Marshall, S. & Landau, I., Labour and Labour Related Laws in Small and Micro Enterprises: Innovative Regulatory Responses, SEED Working Paper 81, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, 2008, 159 pp. [download this article]

Bertone, S., Marshall, S., Zuhair, S., Babacan, H. & Fenwick, C., WorkChoices The Victorian Experience, JobWatch Inc, Melbourne, 2007, 57pp.