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Albanese government to make it easier for casuals to become permanent employees

  • Written by Michelle Grattan

Casual workers will be given a new path to becoming permanent, with the security that brings, in industrial relations reforms Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke will introduce later this year.

Under the change, promised in Labor’s election campaign, there will be a new definition of when an employee can be classified as “casual”.

Eligible workers could then apply to change their status, which would mean they received benefits such as paid leave but lost the extra loading casuals have in lieu of entitlements.

Burke says the measure will potentially help more than 850,000 casuals who have regular work arrangements.
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But he is anxious to reassure employers, as well as to stress that not all casuals will want to go down this path.

Business has been resisting a change to the arrangements affecting casuals, and in general criticising the government for a pro-union industrial relations agenda.

Burke, who will give more detail of his IR plan in a Monday speech to The Sydney Institute, said the government was keeping “much of the existing framework that unions and business groups agree should not change”.

This included current processes to offer eligible employees permanent work after a year.

The new measure will be prospective – people won’t be entitled to make claims for pay relating to past work.

Burke said many casuals, for example students, who worked irregularly and wanted the current extra loading, would not want to make the transition.

“No casual will be forced to lose their loading. No casual will be forced to become a permanent employee,” he said.

“But for those who desperately want security - and are being rostered as though they were permanent - for the first time job security will be in sight,” Burke said.

“There are casual workers who are trying to support households. They’re being used as though they’re permanent workers and the employer is double dipping - taking all the advantages of a reliable workforce and not providing any of the job security in return,” Burke said. “That loophole needs to be closed.”

Burke’s reassurances follow preemptive criticism from business.

Writing in the Weekend Australian Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said: “The kinds of changes potentially under contemplation would inevitably increase business costs and risks, reduce investment and reduce employment”.

“Since it was elected, the government has implemented a series of unbalanced industrial relations changes that will do nothing to boost productivity or assist businesses to grow and increase employment. The changes so far have only looked to deliver on a wide range of longstanding union claims. Enough is enough.

"Current casual employment arrangements need to be preserved to prevent Australian businesses and their workforces losing the choices and agility they need to prosper.”

But ACTU secretary Sally McManus said in a statement in May: “Too many casuals are casual in name only. Too many jobs that are actually permanent jobs have been made casual, denying workers both pay and rights.

"The majority of casuals work regular hours, week in, week out and have been in their job for more than a year. Changes made by the Morrison Coalition Government in early 2021 made this erosion of job security completely lawful.

"Big business has used loopholes in our work laws to make what should be secure jobs into casualised, insecure work. It is a way of driving down wages and putting all the stress onto workers.”

This article first appeared in The Conversation and is republished with permission.

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