Battle over casual workers forced to wear armbands with barcodes

Casual workers at a warehouse in Melbourne are being forced to wear armbands marked with barcodes to identify them as non-permanent staff.

Permanent staff members at the DB Schenker warehouse do not have to wear the armbands and the National Union of Workers has spoken out against the requirement for casuals, saying it is an attack on their dignity.

The union says the workers are employed by labour hire company Manpower and must scan themselves in before starting work and carry the armbands at all times. They also have to pay for the bands.

Emma Kerin, spokesperson for the NUW, told SmartCompany the union had not yet heard anything from the company about the armbands, but it was something it was continuing to look into.

“The NUW is running a campaign called ‘Jobs you can Count on’, which looks at workers getting into permanent work if they wish to and workers having more security in their jobs and their lives,” Kerin says.

Kerin says the Melbourne warehouse is in the third-party logistics industry and within this area there is quite a high rate of casual labour employed.

Of Australia’s workforce, 5%, or about 605,000 people, are now employed by labour hire firms, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The NUW says 40% of the workforce is employed as casuals.

In an opinion article for Fairfax today, NUW assistant national secretary Paul Richardson said all employees should be treated with dignity, and questioned whether there was enough regulation of labour hire firms.

“There is a new divide in our nation – both social and economic – and it is between those who have a well-paid and meaningful secure job and those who fall into the growing category of insecure workers,” Richardson said in the article.

“Many workers tell us the worst thing is how they are made to feel. It’s about how they are treated.

“It’s about their dignity as workers. People are treated like second-class citizens, our members tell us. And many feel that if they speak up about it they will be shown the door.”

SmartCompany contacted DB Shenker for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Manpower released a statement which said it did not require the casual employees to pay for the armbands.

“Manpower does not require employees to pay for any form of identification that they are required wear on-site. Manpower is responsible for this cost.”
 
“In relation to the opinion piece by Paul Richardson, Assistant National Secretary of the National Union of Workers, we note that Mr Richardson is entitled to his point of view.

“We do however disagree with a number of his points that are not factually correct.”

The Australian Industry Group says while it cannot comment on the Melbourne warehouse in question, union attempts to restrict casual employment flexibility need to be rejected.

“The unions’ attempts to impose new restrictions on casual employment flexibility are not in the interests of employers, employees or the community,” AIG chief executive, Innes Willox, said in a statement.

“They risk the maintenance of flexible workplaces which are essential to lifting productivity and competitiveness.”

The AIG disputes that the Australian workforce is increasingly casualised and says the level of casual employment in Australia today is 19% of the workforce, which is less than it was seven years ago.

“There is no casualisation problem in Australia. The problem is the ongoing attempts by unions and others to limit flexibility for employers and employees,” Willox said.

“Casual employees receive a casual loading (typically 25%) to compensate for various entitlements received by full-time and part-time employees, such as annual leave and personal or carer’s leave.

“This is fair and most casuals are happy with the casual loading.”

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