New laws have been introduced to revise the casual employment system in Australia. Here’s what these changes mean.
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On December 7, 2020, Attorney General Christian Porter announced the government’s new omnibus law on industrial relations. On the 9th it went through parliament. The draft law aims to significantly reform legislation on industrial jobs. One major change concerns the laws for casual workers related to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the National Employment Standards. How will it work?
What are casual employees?
Casual employees are currently defined as:
- Working hours (not guaranteed)
- The hours are usually irregular
- No entitlement to illness or annual leave
- The ability to leave employment without notice
However, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic highlighted inherent flaws in the current system. That is, the lack of security that casual workers have (especially those who have been casually employed for a long time). These reforms aim to make casual work safer and the workforce in general more secure.
What are the changes?
1. New definition of casual workers
Section 15A of the bill changes the definition of the Fair Work of Casual Workers Act. Occasional workers include people who have accepted a job from an employer who “has not made a firm commitment to continue the work according to an agreed work pattern and to continue it for an indefinite period”.
In the event of an enactment, casual workers can access additional permissions and rights.
2. Easier conversion to permanent employment
After 12 months of employment, employers are obliged to convert casual workers into permanent employment (be it part-time or full-time, with no significant change in working hours). This must be done when employees meet certain criteria, e.g. B. a regular work schedule for the last 6 months. This is possible because the bill included a new section (s66B) in national employment standards.
Employers can also refuse to do so if they have reasonable grounds. If employees are not granted a conversion after the first 12 months, they also have the right to request a casual permanent conversion every 6 months thereafter.
This change has the potential to improve job security as, by becoming permanent employees, casual employees will have access to entitlements such as paid personal leave (sickness or care) and pro-rated annual leave.
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3. No conversion into fixed-term contracts
The addition of a 4A division, as proposed by the bill, prevents employers from converting their casual workers into fixed-term contracts. This change to casua labor laws appears to be an attempt by the government to discourage employers from providing temporary workers to workers after they have worked as casual workers.
However, there is concern that if wrongly phrased, employees may use legislation as a reason to fire employees before they reach the 12 month period to prevent requests for permanent work. So far, the unions have rejected the bill because they believe the proposal will not help casual workers, which makes it even worse. A representative of the Australian Union Council, Secretary Sally Meus, echoed this sentiment. declaring that unions “must be ready to fight and defend workers’ rights”.
Why is this change happening now?
At the start of the pandemic, more than 60% of job losses in Australia were casual workers. This makes casual work one of the most pandemic-hit industries in Australia. In light of the ongoing uncertainty caused by COVID-19, the government wants to do more to improve job security and promote employment.
The recent court case (WorkPac / Rossato) drew attention to the laws on casual labor and could also be another trigger for legal reform in industrial relations. In this case, the federal court ruled that casual employees could be entitled to more if they actually did regular permanent employment, which would essentially lead to a “double immersion” of claims. While the decision is currently being challenged, it has significant implications as employers could be held liable for $ 9 billion to $ 39 billion.
The key takeaway from the bill is that the reorganization of laws for casual workers will redefine casual workers and permanently change the transition process for casual workers. It could greatly improve job security for casual workers by improving access to permanent conversions. Although the law has been passed by both houses of parliament, it has not yet been passed. In anticipation of a consultation and a focus committee, this should be finalized in 2021 if passed.
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