In 2018, unions will be pushing to curb the casulisation of the workforce in Australia, according to ACTU secretary Sally McManus. This news will surely delight those casual employees who sometimes have to dip into their savings when their workplace gives them just one shift a week or no shifts at all.
Unions are seeking changes to the Fair Work Act. Specifically, changes that would include a clear definition of what constitutes ‘casual work’ as well as provisions that would allow employees to automatically switch to part-time employment after six months of working casually.
These changes would be prioritised in the coming year and McManus told The Australian:
“The issue of casualisation, the casualisation of jobs, is going to be a key focus of the whole trade union movement next year in 2018. One of the key things we want to change for working people is turning around or reversing the casualisation of jobs.
That goes to properly defining what a casual is, which is a real weakness in the Fair Work Act where there is no proper definition and there used to be. That’s allowed employers just to call people casuals even though they have been in ongoing employment for a long time.
What we would want is the commonly understood and old definition of what casual employment is: if you have a reasonable expectation of ongoing work, you have been working regular shifts, you shouldn’t be defined as a casual, you should have all the rights of permanent employees.”
Brendan O’Connor, the shadow relations minister, has told The Guardian: “Too often now we see people working as their main job in what employers are deeming to be casual, even when they work for years on end. For that reason, Labor is committed to examining this.”
The main argument that the ACTU is bringing to the table is that a large number of workers in Australia are working regular hours for long periods of time. However, since they are employed on a casual basis, they are not being granted any of the protections or leave allowances that are granted to permanent employees.
Stephen Smith of the Australian Industry Group dismissed the proposal and said:
“The proposition is ridiculous. The Fair Work Act was implemented by the former Labor government. It increased union power in more than 100 areas and markedly increased employee entitlements.
Changes are needed to the act to increase flexibility, not to remove essential existing flexibility. Casual employment suits a very large number of people, who prefer this form of employment because it gives them the flexibility that they want or need.”
The arguments are strong on both sides but only time will tell what will happen next.