An upcoming full bench hearing of the Fair Work Commission
(FWC) will consider new clauses proposed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). These clauses call for all casual workers to be converted to fulltime employment after six months of regular work. A four-hour minimum engagement period for casuals has also been recommended.
The hearing comes soon after a separate FWC decision which saw casual periods of service counted towards redundancy payouts
in certain circumstances.
“It is in the interests of employers and casual employees that the unions’ claims be decisively rejected," said Innes Willox, chief executive of the Ai Group.
If the proposed conversion clauses were accepted, thousands of casual employees would be terminated, he said.
“If employers were forced to convert casuals after six months of regular employment, the predicable result would be that many employers would ensure that they do not employ casuals for more than six months, or they would outsource or offshore work.”
James Pearson, chief executive of the ACCI, put the number of fulltime jobs lost at 19,000.
“If it succeeds, the union claim will cost the Australian economy $3.7b a year, and lead to 19,000 fewer full-time-equivalent jobs, according to modelling carried out for ACCI by a team led by professor Glenn Withers, an economist at the Australian National University,” he told The Australian
Willox called the unions “naïve” if they thought employers would simply convert tens of thousands of casuals to fulltime work in the event the FWC approved these clauses.
He also criticised the proposed four-hour minimum engagement period, calling it “ill-conceived” and harmful to workers.
“Many casuals cannot or do not want to work for four hours, eg school students who work in the fast food industry after school,” he said.
“A four-hour minimum engagement period would be crippling for the aged care and community services industries which provide in-home services for the elderly and sick, and people with disabilities.”
Finally, he slammed the “bogus claims” allegedly spread by the unions about the “casualisation” of the Australian workforce.
“ABS statistics show that the level of casual employment in Australia is the same today as it was in 1998 – about 20% of the workforce. The level of casual employment in Australia has been around 20% for 18 years, with no sign of the level increasing.”
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The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) have expressed their opposition to a union push that would have severe ramifications for employers of casual workers.