Why high-skilled workers are worrying about wage theft

29 August 2019
The 'fissuring' of business structures and workplaces fundamentally changes the nature of work and the employment relationship, and which aren't just the concerns of low-skilled workers, Professor David Weil explained when he delivered the Kingsley Laffer lecture.

Hosted by the University of Sydney Business School’s Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, the annual Kingsley Laffer Memorial Lecture was this year delivered by Professor Weil on 15 August.

“We see the fissuring of work most obviously in lean sectors like retail but it’s now encroaching on jobs in highly-skilled industries like law and medicine,” Professor Weil explained.

Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, Professor Weil was Head of the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor 2014-2017 under President Barack Obama.

Professor David Weil delivering the 2019 Kingsley Laffer Memorial Lecture.

“Like a fissure in a once solid rock that deepens and spreads, the secondary businesses doing that work is affected, often shifting those activities to other businesses and so on,” said Professor Weil.

What impact does this continuous fissuring of work have on businesses and workers?

While head of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, Professor Weil was responsible for enforcing laws against wage theft and saw many workers in catering, home care and janitorial work fail to be paid what they had rightly earned.

“We need to confront the challenges of present workplaces and move regulation away from ‘employment’ and toward ‘work’,” Professor Weil explained.

Head of the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, Professor Marian Baird, welcomed Professor Weil to campus and said: “It was an honour to have the Laffer Lecture delivered by someone with such wide-ranging practical and applied experience.

“Professor Weil’s lecture shows the value of connecting research with the real-world experience of work and employment,” said Professor Baird.  

The inaugural Kingsley Laffer Memorial Lecture was delivered in 1992 by the Hon Bob Hawke, former prime minister of Australia.

Kingsley Laffer was the founder of industrial relations at the University of Sydney and a pioneer of teaching and research in Australian industrial relations.

Professor Weil has written five books including The Fissured Workplace, published by Harvard University Press in 2017.

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