ALP plans legislative assault on casualisation

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ALP plans legislative assault on casualisation

A Labor Government would legislate to change the objects of the Workplace Relations Act so that job security and preventing the ‘misuse’ of casual employment would be taken into consideration when awards were made.

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A Labor Government would legislate to change the objects of the Workplace Relations Act so that job security and preventing the ‘misuse’ of casual employment would be taken into consideration when awards were made.

The plan was announced today as Deputy Opposition Leader, Jenny Macklin, and Shadow IR Minister, Craig Emerson, launched the ALP’s casual employment policy at a car components company that has converted 300 casual workers to permanent employees.

They also released a report produced by Labor think-tank the Chifley Research Centre, which showed levels of casualisation have raced ahead of permanent employment, with full-time casual employment growing by 40% in the past eight years compared with 7% more permanent full-time jobs.

With more than one in four (27%) Australian workers now employed on a casual basis, the over-reliance on casual workers presented serious risks to productivity due to an associated deterioration in skills development, the report says.

Speaking at seatbelt manufacturer Autoliv Australia, in Melbourne, Macklin and Emerson expanded on a recent address given by Emerson to the National Press Club in Canberra, in which he outlined Labor’s plans to allow conversion to permanent employment for regular, long-term casual workers (see previous story).

The policy includes:

  • Legislating to ensure the AIRC takes into account job security and the need to prevent the ‘misuse’ of casual employment.
  • Award provisions would allow casuals employed for set times (varying according to industry) to apply for conversion, with employers not able to refuse unreasonably. When determining reasonableness, the AIRC would consider size and nature of the business.
  • Employees who convert would gain leave entitlements available to permanent employees like sick leave and annual leave, and lose casual loadings. Employees would not be made to convert. 
The report

The report released at the launch, ‘Securing Quality Employment’, written by the University of Adelaide’s Barbara Pocock, University of Sydney’s John Buchanan and RMIT’s Iain Campbell, goes further than the ALP in its recommendations to address the growth of casualisation.

It says the average tenure of casual employees is now more than two years and that these workers miss out on important employment in return for limited job security, unpredictable earnings and hours, no paid sick or holiday leave, and limited access to other rights and forms of leave.

It said many casual workers have difficulty borrowing money, predicting childcare needs, and managing finances.

'Casual workers have less access to training, to internal career ladders, and often sit on the marginal sidelines of the workplace, the report says. ‘Over time, an economy dependent upon a larger and larger slice of casual employees [estimated to be one in three workers by 2010] will face a deteriorating skills base, lower workforce stability and higher turnover costs. This is both inefficient and inequitable.’

The report recommends action to restrict casual employment to ‘true casual’ work - that is, short-term, irregular tasks - saying ongoing part-time employment is preferable.

It was time to move beyond the ‘unhelpful’ binary thinking on the debate, which either cast casualisation as ‘the way of the future’ to embrace new-found ‘flexibilities’ or looked back with nostalgia to the ‘good old days’ of  full-time permanent employment.

The report is available on the Chifley Research Centre website.

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