The Labor Government is giving casual workers new rights in a bid to improve job security and limit exploitation in the casual sector.
People working on causal contracts, but filling full-time hours, will now be able to convert their contracts to full, permanent positions, with all the benefits and extras that this includes.
It’s part of a package of workplace reforms that the government is rolling out over the coming months as work culture shifts in Australia. The government is seeking to “close loopholes” that undermine working conditions and pay.
“The Albanese Labor Government is standing up for casual workers who want to become permanent employees,” Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said in a press release.
“As part of the Government’s next set of workplace reforms, we will close the loophole that leaves people stuck as casuals when they actually work permanent regular hours”.
There are some 850,000 casual employees in Australia working regular hours. People on these contracts, if they’re working full-time at 38 hours per week, will be eligible for the new permanent conversion.
The changes are effectively to stop employers from being able to employ people as though they weren’t regular, reliable staff. Some companies do so to avoid having to pay extras like sick pay and holiday leave. Those contracts are also much easier to terminate and can leave people uncertain when their next pay cheque is coming.
What defines ‘casual work’ in Australia has been a hot debate in the employment sector over the past few years. A 2021 High Court ruling scrapped the idea that casual workers should get holiday and sick pay, creating the current situation.
According to Labor, the previous government relaxed rules around casual workers, making it easier for employers to exploit them. As part of the upcoming changes, the definition of ‘casual work’ will be legislated in a “fair, objective” way.
“[Casual workers are] 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. That loophole needs to close,” Burke said.
Some industry bodies and employers have raised concerns that business costs would increase because of the changes. However, Burke has denied this, as extra pay in casual loading hours can be transferred over to leave entitlements.
Burke also emphasised that for many, casual work is an employment choice that they make to suit their own lifestyles.
“Many casuals won’t want a permanent job. If you’re a student or just working a casual job to make some extra money, this change won’t matter to you,” Burke said.
“No casual will be forced to lose their loading. No casual will be forced to become a permanent employee.
“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.”
The permanent conversion will be made effective from the day the changes are brought in and won’t be applied retroactively. Casual employees will be eligible for the conversion if they’ve been working regular hours with one company for more than a year.