The concept of job security has four completely different meanings:
Most working people would suppose that job security is a good thing, but everybody has a different idea of which of these 4 ideas they’re aiming for when they support the right to have job security. Some notions of job security are 'internal' in that they depend upon your personal resources; others are 'external' as they require that you take legal action or some form of collective action. Over time the law has tried to promote job security in various ways ranging back and forth across the four meanings listed above.
Experience shows that the deepest and truest meaning of job security is dependent on your own internal resources – the notion of self-reliance in your ability to achieve income stability over the course of your working life. Even though there is an impressive array of legal rights to fight for your job when the employer tries to separate you from it, this situation calls for wisdom in knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Probably the only time it's worth fighting is when there is more at stake than just your job - if your entire career or profession is under threat. Otherwise, moving on to the next job may be the better option.
This is the true meaning of job security in the first sense, and it is the only meaning that has relevance in the context of short-term and gig work.
Nobody wants to build a house on shifting sands; hence the need to rethink the idea of 'your job' and what it means to you to secure your career as you move from one gig to the next.
As mentioned above, this concept has come to assume four main forms within the legal framework.
1. The idea of job property
Long ago, when the earth was still young, working people had a vision of job security as a form of property in work. The idea was that when you say 'my job' you are referring to something that is yours, that should not be taken away from you without just cause. Perhaps it arose from the labour theory of property, buried in the mists of time: the idea that when you mix your labour with something it becomes your property. People still feel this affinity and connectedness to their job. In ordinary language you would say 'I have a great job' rather than 'the company I work for offers great work'. So there is an intuitive sense that people should not be separated from their jobs unless there is a very good reason. Hence the International Labour Organization declares that ‘Termination of employment should not take place unless there is a valid reason for such termination connected with the capacity or conduct of the worker or based on the operational requirements of the undertaking, establishment or service’ (Recommendation No 119, Art 2.1)
Although the expression of this idea as 'job property' has faded away today, you would still be right to think that there is something about your work that you own, that is yours, and that cannot be taken from you without your consent: and that is what you take with you everywhere you go regardless of who your actual employer is.
Unless you work for yourself, on your own turf, sadly this does not mean that you own your actual physical work space or work tools or even the products you make. That belongs to the employer, so you can be evicted from the workplace and allowed to take nothing with you except your personal belongings. Harsh but true. Ask anyone who's ever been escorted off the premises by security and not allowed to retrieve the contents of their desk.
Nor does it mean that you can sue your employer to get your job back. This is sometimes possible in theory especially if you work for the government or your local authority, as the Employment Rights Act in the UK allows a tribunal to reinstate fired workers: 'An order for reinstatement is an order that the employer shall treat the complainant in all respects as if he had not been dismissed' (section 114).
At common law in theory you could race to the law courts as soon as you catch wind of the rumour that your employer is about to fire you, and take out an injunction to stop the employer in his tracks. But rarely is this achievable in real world conditions and possibly never outside the rarefied atmosphere of public-service work.
So, here’s some free advice: never try to force anyone to hire you or promote you or retain you when they clearly don’t want to – it will not end well. As common sense will tell you, there is a huge difference between what is legally possible and what is going to end well for you in terms of your own happiness. “Please come here looking for personal happiness!” read no banner hanging above any employment law office reception desk, ever. Being fired is not the worst thing that could ever happen. Get up, dust yourself off, and move on.
What you take with you is your own ability to be productive and to earn an income from your productivity. Nobody can take that away from you unless you let them, by wasting time in stupid fights that will destroy your self-worth and your energy and your dynamism.
2. Procedural Fairness
Possibly the idea of fair play and being treated nicely (as you deserve, because you're worth it) comes closest to the meaning of job security in most jurisdictions including the UK's Employment Rights Act. We all know what fair procedure means: a right to be heard and a right to have an impartial decision-maker to determine the outcome. Our legal system is pretty good at setting out the principles of fair procedure. But if you ask anyone who has ever been fired they’re unlikely to recount how pleasant and entirely justified the entire experience was. When it comes to firing workers, it’s usually a case of shoot first and construct valid reasons afterwards. Only a dozy employer who is 100% fast asleep will be unable to come up with a valid reason for a dismissal and a nice paper trail to show how all the boxes were ticked before axing you. That's what is meant by being 'written up' for a a 'disciplinary' - you are being put through the procedural mill, my friend, wherein you will be chewed up and spat out. Yup, you'll still get fired at the end of the day, process or no process.
You should take no comfort from knowing that the process is working itself nicely through all the required steps. Instead you should be spending your time on google, planning your next adventure.
3. Your legal claims
If you insist on fighting, you have two main legal claims in English law. The first is a common law claim for damages for breach of contract. The second is a claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act (ERA). There are pros and cons to both types of claims. If you have a very strong and generous contract of employment that guarantees you untold riches, like the famed golden parachutes of investment banker renown, then the breach of contract claim is the way to go. If you have a bog-standard contract like most ordinary people do, then you are probably entitled to nothing more than a few weeks' wages so the ERA claim in the employment tribunal is your best bet. The ERA claim is also a good bet if you feel that you have some special claim to be treated nicely (special race, special sex, etc) because if the employer violated that special status the tribunal will be very affronted on your behalf and will give you a bit of extra money to comfort you in your upset and distress.
Now, nobody is actually unsackable unless the roots of their security and power lie in solidarity with other workers. This form of job security was historically achieved by the great trades unions (a truly rousing history with some epic battles fought and won) but things have changed. Unions like all collective bodies are nowadays run on principles of democracy or majority rule. They put resources into fighting for the priorities that most members are concerned about, like how much the use of plastic is harming the environment and stealing Greta Thornburg's childhood. If you are concerned about your personal job security you will have to look to yourself I'm afraid. But what about the welfare of Other People and thinking of ways to find job security to help others and so "nobody else has to suffer what I went through?" Um, if you are worried about the Social Welfare Implications of your personal trauma then you are on the wrong blog.
In the final analysis the only form of job security you can rely on is your personal courage, your fortitude, and your derring-do. That’s the true meaning of job security and the only one worth believing in. It allows you constantly to evolve and adapt with the times. Rather than burying your head in the sand waiting for a robot to steal your job from you and then mounting a ferocious and futile complaint about the unfairness of life, you will find that innovation and the great internet will become your allies in conveying you away to your next adventure in the world of work.
Scholar, Writer, Friend