In a move that has raised question marks among business advocates, a Coalition-majority committee has recommended employers should be prohibited from replacing full-time workers with “permanent casuals”.
In what has been described as a “stunning about-face” by unions, the House Standing Committee on Innovation, Industry, Science and Resources, chaired by Barnaby Joyce, has recommended Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer review the use of casual work and labour-hire in the mining and other sectors.
The committee backed changes to the Fair Work Act that would prevent employers from getting rid of “directly-employed, full-time workers with permanent casual employees, and other similar casualised employee types”.
It also recommended enshrining a right for regular casuals to convert to permanent employment after a set period of time into law.
The findings are a sign that a rift has emerged within the Coalition over casual work, particularly in relation to the mining sector, amid an ongoing court case testing casual double-dipping, which O’Dwyer has intervened in.
“The Committee is watching this issue closely and supports moves to legislate to prevent further casualization and outsourcing of mining workforces,” the standing committee said in its report.
However, while the committee expressed concern about the nature of casual work in the mining sector, it’s thought its recommendations could change the nature of casual work in other sectors.
Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong says he wouldn’t support a move to prevent employers from replacing full-time workers with permanent casual employees.
“I find it very interesting that they haven’t run away from this, we have to be constructive,” he tells SmartCompany.
Strong says he’s not concerned yet about any impending review but is wary of policy which could limit employer flexibility or add additional red-tape to the industrial relations system.
“If the result of this is another 50 pages added to each industry award that’s concerning,” he says.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said casual conversion clauses, which have been in some awards for decades, had not been popular with workers.
“The experience has been that very few casuals want to convert to permanent employment. They typically do not want to lose the flexibility that casual employment offers and they do not want to lose the 25% casual loading,” he said in a statement.
A spokesperson for O’Dwyer said the government was considering the recommendations but did not respond to questions about whether there was disagreement within the coalition over casual work.
“Since October, most award-covered employees have had the right to request conversion from casual to permanent work after a set period of ongoing casual work,” the spokesperson said.
“This is an important right and we respect the Fair Work Commission’s decision that it should be extended to most award-covered workers.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus said the committee members, including Joyce and George Christensen, had realised voters would punish them for allowing businesses to “casualise secure jobs”.
“We need to change the rules and close the loopholes that allow business to destroy good, secure jobs through the use of labour hire and other underhanded tactics,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.