More than one million casual workers will be able to apply for permanency and legally challenge if their boss unreasonably refuses their request under changes proposed by Bill Shorten to wind back the number of long-term casuals.
Labor’s commitment on casual conversion is similar to a proposal by the Coalition, but the Opposition Leader will also promise to legislate a new “objective definition” of casual employment, opening up a likely battle with employers.
Labor will today commit to changing the Fair Work Act to provide workers with a right to challenge an employer who unreasonably refuses a request to convert to part-time or full-time employment after 12 months of regular, ongoing work with the same employer.
Mr Shorten acknowledged that some workers “like the flexibility that casual work provides”, but said too often casual employment was used as a mechanism to pay workers less, deprive them of leave and make them easier to sack.
The Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, announced in December that the Coalition would legislate the right for all casual workers to seek permanency after 12 months of regular and continuous employment.
It followed a Fair Work Commission decision that provides a right for casual employees on modern awards to request to convert to part-time or full-time employment if they have worked a regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis in the previous 12 months.
Unions criticised the Coalition bill, which has not been voted on by the Senate, saying it allowed employers to arbitrarily determine whether a worker was a casual rather than apply an objective test of casual work.
“Labor will consult with stakeholders over the definition of casual work,” an ALP spokeswoman said. “What we won’t do is allow employers to unilaterally decide who is a casual, like the Liberals have tried to do.’’
Labor will also review the criteria allowing employers to refuse request on “reasonable business grounds” to assess whether it is delivering fair outcomes.
Retail trade, accommodation and food services account for about 38 per cent of casual workers across Australia. An estimated 2.6 million workers are considered casual, with more than half having been with their employer for more than 12 months, and 192,000 workers with their current employer for more than 10 years.
Mr Shorten said the Labor policy built on the opposition pledge to reverse penalty rate cuts and support an above-inflation increase in the minimum wage.
“Too many Australians are employed as casuals with no clear prospect of a permanent position and endless job insecurity,’’ Mr Shorten said. “Too often, long-term casual work is used as a mechanism to pay workers less, deprive them of leave and make them easier to sack.
“While some people like the flexibility that casual work provides, for others it has become a constant worry: never knowing what it’s like to have a paid sick day or paid holiday.
“For these workers, it’s tough to pay the rent or the mortgage and the bills, let alone make longer-term decisions like taking out a car loan or buying their own home.”
Mr Shorten said the government had spent five years denying there was a problem with casualisation and precarious work.