A rights-based Precariat Charter

There are a lot of reviews on the internet about Professor Guy Standing’s book A Precariat Charter published about a year ago. But it’s worth some reflections here especially in view of its focus on a reinvigorated rights based approach for dealing with the current crisis in employment and economic inequality and most particularly the rise of an increasingly disenfranchised precariat class. Standing calls this the Global Transformation Crisis. It was also hard to find a copy of the Charter’s Articles on the internet so I reproduce them here.

Standing might have framed his recommendations as a set of policies but he has chosen instead to frame them in the tradition of a charter or bills of rights with historical antecedents from the Magna Carta to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. A charter of rights is the starting point or the grounding for the development of specific policies and laws.

Standing’s Precariat Charter is made up of 29 Articles and cover a very large territory:

Article 1: Redefine work as productive and reproductive activity  

Article 2: Reform labour statistics

Article 3: Make recruitment practices brief encounters 

Article 4: Regulate flexible labour

Article 5: Promote associational freedom

Articles 6– 10: Reconstruct occupational communities

Articles 11– 15: Stop class-based migration policy

Article 16: Ensure due process for all

Article 17: Remove poverty traps and precarity traps

Article 18: Make a bonfire of benefit assessment tests

Article 19: Stop demonizing the disabled

Article 20: Stop workfare now!

Article 21: Regulate payday loans and student loans.

Article 22: Institute a right to financial knowledge and advice.

Article 23: Decommodify education.

Article 24: Make a bonfire of subsidies (in other words, stop state support for over-paid exploiters and slave masters like IDS).

Article 25: Move towards a universal basic income.

Article 26: Share capital via sovereign wealth funds.

Article 27: Revive the Commons.

Article 28: Revive deliberative democracy.

Article 29: Re-marginalize charities.

In all, the 29 Articles constitute a radical prescription for reform of just about everything. But I categorise them in three interrelated ways.

The first set of Articles deals with employment specifically in regards to the way it is defined, measured, allocated, regulated, remunerated and organised. It also includes proposals on how workers themselves can represent their own best interests and that of their occupations. It covers the vexed question of migrant labour. These Articles draw from Standing’s prolific analysis of contemporary labour markets in books includng Work after Globalisation and The Precariat. So they are best understood in terms of what Standing says in these books about the breakdown of the capacity of labour markets to provide opportunity for social and economic participation of large proportions of populations.

The second set of Articles deals with social protection. At the heart of the recommendations in this area is the establishment of a universal basic income and the abolition of current workfare arrangements. This includes an abolition of the prescriptions that are encumbered on receiving social benefits which have degenerated into a cruel and punitive regimen with all sorts of perverse and contradictory effects. He draws examples largely from the UK but they are just as relevant and applicable in Australia. His arguments resonate with those I describe for the USA and Australia in this article.

The third set of Articles combine a number of proposals around economic and institutional reforms with some on the question of migration protocols also. These Articles attempt to put forward solutions to those areas which are compounding global and national inequalities. They are interesting and provocative set of claims covering the legal system, education, and charities as well as a suite of suggestions for invoking more political participation and redistribution of wealth.

The Precariat Charter is an important document in that it actually seeks to lay some foundations for what needs to be done to overcome the present impasses in policies and institutions which are setting up significant dysfunctions – and inequalities -across societies.

We saw this in full flourish in the Four Corners documentary  The Jobs Game, on Australia’s privatised employment service system. The documentary described the way that public funds are wasted on businesses that do little or nothing to help unemployed people. But the institutional arrangements for the delivery of employment placements services set up the conditions for the providers to make the most for themselves from weaknesses in the government’s contracting and compliance regimes. It is precisely these sort of systemic failures that Guy Standing’s Precariat Charter would overcome.

PS. Links to two of my own papers on the employment service system are below. In a nutshell they say that the employment service system helps to keep people flowing into low end jobs and actually support the growth of low end jobs. This happens firstly because of the conditions attached to Centrelink payments on taking suitable work, and secondly because it is so awful dealing with Centrelink and employment service providers that people take whatever they can get to avoid dealing with them – which I guess is the whole point of the social security system.






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