Motion on Casual Workers

MOTION ON CASUAL WORKERS

I move that this House:

  1. notes the Government's commitment to stand up for casual workers who want to become permanent employees;

  2. recognises that this:
    (a) will help more than 850,000 casual workers who have regular work arrangements, giving them greater access to leave entitlements and more financial security if desired;
    (b) delivers on the Government's election commitment, ensuring that where a worker's pattern of work is no longer casual, they have the choice to move to permanent employment and gain the benefits of secure employment; and
    (c) forms part of a broader set of reforms to be introduced into Parliament later this year aimed at closing loopholes that undermine wages and conditions; and

  3. acknowledges this is just part of the Government's commitment to deliver a better future for Australian workers, building on the strong foundations in the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation passed in December 2022.

The latest figures show that there are approximately 851,000 casual employees with regular working arrangements. These workers do not receive paid leave entitlements. They may struggle to make financial plans for the future. They are more likely to expect to lose their jobs for involuntary reasons, with 22.5 per cent of casual workers expected to move jobs, expecting to lose their jobs for economic reasons or expecting their seasonal, temporary, fixed-term casual jobs to end, compared to 11.6 per cent of permanent employees. They're more likely to be underemployed—17.3 per cent of casual employees are underemployed, compared with 2.3 per cent of permanent employees. They are more likely to be female—53.4 per cent of all casual employees are female, and 23.7 per cent of female employees are casual. The problem is: currently, the definition of casuals within the Fair Work Act is based only on the original offer of employment made to the employee, without taking into account any subsequent conduct of the parties.

It is always a surprise to me, when I am talking to young people in my electorate who are in their first job, when they say to me that they are permanent casuals. I take the time to tell them that they don't exist—that 'permanent casual' is an oxymoron. But they are told by their employers that that is the status of their employment. We know that's not the case, and this government is going to do something about it.

There are employers exploiting the loophole where any subsequent conduct of the parties is not taken into consideration, treating employees as casuals even if they work regular and predictable hours for long periods of time. There are plenty of casual workers who have been stuck in casual employment arrangements for too long. They are being used as though they are permanent workers, without the security of permanent employment, just because of what is written in the employment contract.

The former government compounded this problem. They institutionalised job insecurity for casual workers. In 2021, while the courts were considering the question of how to determine employment status, the previous government introduced legislation, as part of an omnibus bill, to legitimise a blatantly unfair definition of casual employment. Then, extraordinarily, the coalition government voted down the other provisions in its own bill. The minister at the time, Senator Michaelia Cash, and the coalition government voted against all the other parts of their own legislation. They voted against their own legislation that would have criminalised wage theft and they voted against their own legislation that would have modified the better off overall test, because the only commitment that ultimately mattered that day was to make sure that they got the section of the bill through which would take rights away from casual workers. We know what they did with penalty rates. The pattern was set. What was left was an unreasonable definition that has now been in effect for two years, a definition that effectively disregards whether or not a casual worker was objectively working in a permanent job. If the contract said you were working as a casual, that was the end of the story, even if you were being told that you were a permanent casual. This government will seek to change that this year.

The Albanese government is standing up for casual employees and will introduce a fair, objective definition of 'casual' to provide clearer pathways to permanent work. As part of the government's next set of workplace reforms, we will close the loophole that leaves people stuck with being classified as casuals when they actually work permanent, regular hours. The government will introduce a fair, new definition that will restore the traditional understanding of casual employment—that is, casual employment will be determined by considering whether there is a firm advance commitment to work, but this concept is to be understood by reference to the totality of the employment relationship, including post-contractual conduct and non-contractual mutual understandings.

This is an area of industrial relations that needs action. We need to ensure that people aren't staying casual employees, without entitlements, for longer than the employer actually sees them as casual employees. This needs to change. It needs to change for young people and it also needs to change for a lot of older people who are now being employed under this definition.

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