The experiences of one of Australia’s biggest retailers has highlighted the business case for investing in permanent employment contracts, but in doing so has added to the ongoing permanent vs casual debate between employers, unions, and workers.
According to Coles HR director Jenny Bryant, the supermarket has halved staff turnover in the past three years by transitioning the bulk of its workforce from casual to permanent arrangements. The company understood it was hard to build a culture if most staff didn’t know if they would be going to work the next day.
The retailer now employs less than 30% of its staff on a casual basis, and according to Bryant engagement levels have also risen – by 80%. Likewise, absenteeism has fallen – from 12.5% to 3% each year.
So what then is HR to take away from Coles’ experience? On the one hand, we’re flooded with reports that employees need more flexibility or they’ll walk; and on the other, it seems that having a temporary or casual workforce is a recipe for high turnover and poor financial returns.
Stephen Smith, group director of national workplace relations at Australia Industry Group, said employers need flexibility to maintain productivity and competitiveness, and employees need flexibility to meet family responsibilities and lifestyle choices. “The community needs flexibility to achieve economic growth, high levels of employment and increased workforce participation,” he said.
And 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.
However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney said that casual work roles, along with fixed and short-term contracts, which represent 40% of all work arrangements, are not what Australians workers want. “Workers have told us that an insecure work situation makes it harder for them to manage the household finances and to plan for the future,” he said.
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