Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus wants an overhaul of casual work rules. Picture: AAP
Unions are preparing to fight the rise of casual employment, setting up a bitter battle with industry groups in a showdown affecting millions of Australian workers.
The ACTU wants to see a “proper” definition of casual work included in the Fair Work Act and employees given the option of converting to permanent positions after six months of regular work with one company.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus says casual employment was once largely restricted to retail and hospitality industries but the rise of “fake casuals” has contributed to plunging more than half of Australians into insecure work.
“Employers are able to call people casuals – fake casuals – when they’re not casuals,” Ms McManus told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“They tell them to go and get an ABN number when they’re actually permanent workers. They convert them to labour hire just to reduce their wages and conditions.
“All of these are loopholes that need to be shut down so that we make sure we once again have good steady jobs.”
Employers have come out swinging against the proposal, arguing it would harm employees, businesses and the broader community.
Stephen Smith from the Australian Industry Group said restricting casual employment was a ridiculous proposition.
“Casual employment suits a very large number of people, who prefer this form of employment because it gives them the flexibility that they want or need,” he told The Australian.
Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said it was important to maintain some casualisation in the labour market but it should not be the norm or primary method of employment.
“Federal Labor has made it clear that we are going to look at the definition of casual in order to ensure it is used for what it was originally intended to be used for,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“(That is) peaks and troughs, work which is replacing permanence but not for people who are working indefinitely year in and year out and being deemed by their employer to be casual. That is not what we think is reasonable.”
Labor will hold talks with employers and unions before potentially committing to defining casual work in legislation and setting an objective test for when a worker is casual if it wins office at the next election.
The opposition is also examining the ACTU’s push to block employers from reasonably refusing a request by a casual to convert to permanency, which was rejected by the Fair Work Commission in July.
Mr O’Connor said casual employment undermined job and financial security, made it more challenging to organise a loan and deprived people of the opportunity to paid leave entitlements.
“One of the contributions to the fall in real wages is the fact people do not feel confident enough to ask for a wage rise because they have no permanent work,” he said.
“They’re fearful that if they ask for more wages or more work, they may not have any work at all.”
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been contacted for comment.