Casual employees in Australia to get right to permanent employment

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Sydney Employees
Commuters cast their shadows as they arrive at the Central Business District during the morning rush hour in Sydney July 1, 2013. Reuters/Daniel Munoz/File Photo

A 5-member full bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has accepted the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)’s main proposition that the "unrestricted use of casual employment without the safeguard of a casual conversion clause may operate to undermine the fairness and relevance of the safety net.” The FWC has found it essential for modern awards to include a provision by which casual employees may elect to switch to full-time or part-time employment.

This means casual workers in Australia are expected to obtain the right to request permanent employment. The changes will likely be subject to changes before coming into effect.

The ACTU described the changes as its “first small step” to address the issues of casualisation in Australia’s workforce. Unions have been fighting for such change.

Junkee notes that almost one in five Aussie workers is not a permanent employee. Most of those who are casual employees are young people, with almost 75 percent of 15-19 year old workers being casuals. Meanwhile, 40 percent of those aged 20-24 are casual employees.

How to request permanent employment

Casual employees who have worked hours close to part-time or full-time hours over the course of a year would be able to officially request to become a full-time or part-time worker. However, the conversion rights proposed in the draft decision implies that the shift is not an automatic process.

Employers can deny the conversion for some reasons. These include if it would require them to adjust an employee’s hours, or if they can anticipate a casual employee’s role changing significantly in the near future.

Furthermore, employers will now need to engage casual workers for a minimum of two hours at a time. Unions pushed for a four-hour minimum, but businesses argued it could hinder several young people from working short shifts after school.

These changes do not apply to all casual work. Those in higher education, for instance, will not obtain their conversion rights. Several casual employees want to be recognised as full-time workers due to several rights such as paid sick leave and annual leave.

Casual workers who are unsure if the changes apply to their work can contact the FWC, but details are likely to change before the laws come into effect. The FWC’s acknowledgement that some casuals are not getting enough safety nets sets a standard for greater wins for workers in Australia in the future.

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