Earlier this year unions made a vocal push to drive a campaign to make casual workers permanent after six months of ‘regular’ work with one employer. The effects of such a move will have significant outcomes for employers, employees and the economy. And not all opinions are alike. Needless to say, the debate is animated!
Presently casual workers equate to about 20 percent of the Australian workforce. There are many genuine casuals such as students and others who choose to work part-time hours. However there are many casual employees who are expected to work an eight hour day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. Their request for full-time work is rejected in 88 percent of cases as employers opt to retain flexibility in their workforce. Others are too afraid to make this request and this is where the unions are stepping in to provide a voice. An interesting question that is being asked is should a casual employee be transitioned to full-time employment status, will their time spent regularly working full-time casual hours be factored into their redundancy, unfair dismissal and/or parental leave?
The latest industrial relations battle sees unions demanding fairer conditions for casual employees as they state they have been exploited for far too long. They want to give casual workers the right to permanent work conditions after six months of regular work with one employer. Yet will this result in casual employees losing their job role prior to the completion of six months of continuous work? I think you would have to be a fool to believe that this would not occur. And that simply isn’t a fair deal. So how do you protect a casual workforce should this demand become law? It has been stated that with many of the 2.2 million casual workers in Australia facing job losses under the union request, up to $3.7 million could be drained from our economy should such a ruling be put into effect. That’s a huge disruption, and one that could cause unemployment to rise. With such a disturbing chain reaction, the unions demand requires much deliberation.
Lifting the minimum hourly shift from two to four hours is also on the agenda as the fight to increase the rights of casual employees plays out. There are many businesses across a multitude of industries where this ruling could have a significant negative impact. The hospitality industry is an ideal example. Such businesses experience short busy periods. If this ruling were to take effect, to what extent will this complicate business operations? And do we have the right to dictate to a business that this is how they must function?
As an employer working in the recruitment industry it’s not unusual that I encounter casual workers looking for a more permanent role. Most notably they are looking for security. Their casual work does not offer them sick, parental or leave entitlements, and they do not know from one shift to the next if they will still have a job. Talking to numerous employers across a multitude of industries I find myself embroiled in conversations of speculative scenarios should the unions find their endeavours a success. While I do not know how matters will conclude, I do know is that there is a genuine concern from those on both sides of the fence. These concerns are strong, varied and spoken about with much passion. No doubt the controversial debate will ensue for some time yet for it will take years before the Fair Work Commission has investigated claims launched by several large unions.
Tasked with the responsibility of investigation the rights of our casual workforce, the Fair Work Commission has much to ponder. Earlier this year a workplace tribunal commenced a series of public hearings to review issues surrounding pay and conditions across 122 modern awards that cover most Australian workers. Employers fought back, condemning the claims as “costly and thoughtless”. The great aspect about this debate is that we will all be given the opportunity to present our case. It is why we have these systems in place in the first instance – to retain equality for all. How the debate will culminate is anyone’s guess. What I would like to know is your opinion on what is important to you, what other factors need to be taken into consideration? Is there a solution that will suit us all?