How does basic income help employed people?

The issues:

Basic income is relevant to the issues faced by employees in many different ways. This is a selection of the relevant issues employees face.

  • Many employees have ‘precarious’ work – short contracts, temporary jobs, seasonal employment or fewer hours than they would like. They may face unpredictable hours and be expected to be available at short notice.Their social insurance contributions may be too limited to ensure full access to state benefits during periods of illness or unemployment, or full pension entitlements in retirement. They may also experience delays and bureaucratic obstacles in claiming benefits
  • Many employees have alienating or dead-end jobs, with little opportunity for training or skill development. They may have to work in enterprises that are socially or environmentally harmful
  • The balance of power between employers and employees is almost always in favour of employers. Many employees lack negotiating power about pay and conditions and many have to contend with unskilled or unscrupulous management
  • Many employees are obliged to work more hours than they want or than suit their personal or family circumstances, their ability level, or their need to combine caring responsibilities and employment. Long hours of employment can prevent people from engaging in other valuable but unpaid work in the household or community, or in political activity, education or personal development. Low-paid employees who would like to work fewer hours may find that option financially unviable. High-paid employees who would like to work fewer hours may encounter resistance from their employers.
  • Some employees have to retire at 65, even if they like their jobs, are still contributing to their enterprises, or have inadequate pensions.

How a basic income could help

  • Basic income gives employees a genuinely flexible relationship with the labour market and meaningful choices about whether to stay in jobs that are unsatisfactory for any reason.
  • Basic income evens up the balance of power between employers and employees, because genuine exit options exist for employees. Employees have more confidence and negotiating power in seeking better wages or conditions, individually or collectively.
  • Basic income gives people in short-contract or precarious positions an unbroken, guaranteed income to tide them over between periods of employment
  • Basic income is not conditional on social insurance contributions
  • Basic income makes shorter-hours paid work more financially viable. Shorter hours does not necessarily mean fewer hours per day or week, but could be negotiated across a year, to suit the type of work involved
  • Because basic income gives employees more options, employers are more likely to accept people working shorter hours
  • Basic income makes it financially viable for people to do low-paid work that is of direct social benefit
  • Basic income allows people to reject low-paid jobs that are unattractive. These jobs will have to be better paid, or work will have to be re-organised to get the same tasks done
  • Basic income supports people who withdraw from or decrease their time in the labour market to work for themselves – growing food, making or repairing things, caring for others – either as self-employed workers or as unpaid contributors to their households and communities.

What a basic income will not do:

Basic income provides economic security, but most employed people will still want to do paid work so that they can have a higher income. So although basic income will give employees more freedom of choice and more bargaining power, it will not on its own resolve the issues employees face. But it can make people more financially comfortable, so that precarious employment and underemployment are less of a problem. Basic income also facilitates different forms of employment such as cooperatives and partnerships.