Campaign against casual work intensifies

by HCA16 May 2012

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has released a new report which is scathing of casual employment, and plans to vigorously campaign for increased legislation to regulate casual employment – but the report has left employer groups reeling.

Under the ACTU plan, which was announced to delegates gathered at the Sydney Convention Centre and included Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the creation of jobs deemed temporary would be outlawed “where there are reasonable grounds to expect that the work will be ongoing”. Further, it was recommended that Fair Work Australia be given the power to make so-called ‘secure employment orders’ which would force employers to convert casual workers onto permanent contracts. Under the proposed plan, casuals would also be extended the right to request more flexible work hours and accrue entitlements to which they are currently excluded.

Yet many employer groups have said that most of these ideas are far too radical, and would dangerously shift the balance of power from employers to employees. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson vowed its members would resist most of the proposed ‘solutions’ because they are based on the creation of new rights that the economy would not be able to support. “We have a competitive private sector where employment levels have to vary and fluctuate according to economic need,” Anderson said.

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) echoed the view that the attempt to impose limits on casual employment would stifle workplace productivity. “The unions' claims need to be rejected,” AIG CEO Innes Willox said. “Employers need flexibility to maintain productivity and competitiveness. Employees need flexibility to meet family responsibilities and lifestyle choices,” Willox added. A recent report from AIG found casual employment comprised 19% of the workforce and had declined during the past seven years. Willox stated that there is no casualisation problem in Australia, and said a large proportion of casual employees had no desire to convert into permanent positions.

What’s more, there are doubts that the move would in fact be welcomed by employees. The most recent temporary labour report from consulting and recruiting firm Adecco found that temporary and casual employment is favoured by employers and employees alike. “It enables companies to adjust their labour supply to meet the peaks and troughs of their business needs and it helps them access a range of specialist skills as and when required.” Adecco Group CEO Jeff Doyle said. Additionally, the study found that employees often favour temporary and casual work, citing variety and flexibility as the central benefits.

Former deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe was a keynote speaker at the unveiling of the ACTU recommendations, and said the internationalisation of the Australian economy had no doubt improved living standards. “But it has also given rise to unprecedented growth of insecure work," he said, adding that the ACTU has found 40% of workers are not permanently employed – and are instead in some form of casual, temporary or contract employment.

Howe headed the six-month inquiry, set up by the ACTU, to look at the growth in non-permanent employment in Australia since the 1980s, and it was stated that non-permanent workers have:

  • no regular pay
  • no paid holidays
  • no paid sick leave no job security

The inquiry held hearings across 22 Australian towns and cities, and received more than 500 submissions from affected individuals and groups.


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