The Australian Council of Trade Unions' (ACTU) proposed changes to the rights of casual workers could potentially impact businesses across Australia in all industries – here’s what you need to know.
As the modern award system is set to be reviewed, the ACTU will attempt to implement a change which will provide casual workers with entitlements including paid sick and annual leave, permanent positions and training and promotion opportunities.
If the ACTU’s claim is passed by the Fair Work Commission, business groups claim it could disturb the balance established between businesses and employees by the ability of organisations to hire individuals on a casual basis.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that countless businesses rely on casual workers during busy or understaffed periods, whilst many employees favour the flexibility of causal work.
“There is a need for balance between the needs of the business as well as the needs of the worker,” confirmed Steve Shepherd, employment market analyst at Randstad Asia Pacific. “Temporary work works well for employees as well – a large percentage of people enjoy the benefits of its flexibility.”
Currently, employers are not obligated to provide casual workers with any paid leave or notice upon terminating employment.
However, most casual workers are compensated for this with casual loading, and it is arguable that many would prefer the higher hourly rate to the contracted perks.
Casual workers are already given some form of protection in modern awards, such as the right to access unfair dismissal laws if they have been with an employer for 6-12 months, depending on the size of the organisation.
“Many workers who work casually do so through choice,” Shepherd told HC. “There are already aspects of the modern awards which have been implemented to protect long term casual workers.”
If the claim is passed, it is debatable whether the changes will affect the lifestyle of the employed casual worker. Rather, the changes will be more heavily felt by employers, who could become reluctant to recruit casual workers, leaving those desiring flexibility disappointed.
“Even the recent Business 20 meeting in Melbourne recognised the importance of work flexibility,” said Shepherd. “Business has changed over the past 20 years, and there is now a need for flexibility as well as sustainability. Some employers would opt out of recruiting if they can’t hire casual workers.”
Ged Kearney, the president of the ACTU, said that the claim is designed to benefit “teachers, receptionists, disability support and aged care workers who are already genuinely working permanent hours.”
Australia currently has 2.2 million casual workers, who equate to 19% of the nation’s workforce.