Casualisation - a scurge of the modern workplace
26 Feb 2016
Worker exploitation is on the rise in Central Queensland. That’s the claim made by Leisa Neaton, the Labor Candidate for Capricornia. Mrs Neaton claims that when she talks to people across the Capricornia electorate the threat to job security imposed by casualisation is raised again and again.
Mrs Neaton said, “Casualisation is creeping into our way of life as big companies go for short term profits over long term employee loyalty and community building. Worker exploitation is on the rise as people become trapped in the vicious cycle of casual employment.”
What does casualisation really mean? There have always been casual jobs and there always will be. Casual positions are ideal for peak periods or in times when extra employees are needed for finite periods. Generally, being casual means working irregular hours on an irregular roster. According to the Fair Work Act a casual employee has no guaranteed hours of work and usually works irregular hours. Casual employees don't get paid sick or annual leave and can end employment without notice.
The rise of casual employment has been going on for some time and in fact back in 2011, The ‘Working Australia’ Survey of over 42 000 workers indicated that the modern workplace was causing additional stress because people in casual employment were concerned about loss of shifts and jobs if they spoke out about insecure employment conditions. Ged Kearney from the ACTU claimed at the time that business was shifting more and more financial risk and responsibility onto the workforce.
Casualisation means less job security, fewer conditions such as a fair living wage and a right to unfair dismissal protections, and uncertainty for families. Increasingly stories of people being trapped in long term casual employment arrangements are coming to the forefront. Mrs Neaton said that, “One of the hardest things about exposing rising casualisation is that workers are too scared to speak out, fearful they will be targeted in the next round of job losses because they will be labelled as ‘trouble makers.’ Many are employed through labour hire companies.”
For this reason, it is necessary to change the names of the whistle blowers. Let’s talk about ‘*Bob* who has been employed by a major mining company for five years but who is not a permanent employee. He works alongside the same workmates week in, week out on shift but he doesn’t have access to sick leave. When he’s sick he comes into work, not wanting to lose a day’s pay and these actions threaten the health of other workers. Not good for employees, not good for the company. In a high risk industry like mining, it is important employees are fit and healthy for work.
What about *John*? He’s been employed in a high risk industry and he’s unsure of his future. He was willing to stay in casual employment initially but now he wants to marry and start a family. He is unable to secure a loan to purchase a home because despite being with his employer for over four years, he does not have a permanent position and the banks are unwilling to take a risk on his unstable employment. John is caught in the trap of casual employment, worried that if he approaches his employer and requests a permanent job he will be dismissed. Whilst there is the provision in his award to request permanency he knows of others who have made this request and who have not had their contracts renewed. Lately his wages have varied widely from week to week, without any explanation, even though he’s working the same basic hours. John’s too scared to raise the issue in case he is not re-employed.
Then there’s *Craig* who’s had an annoying ongoing health condition. He’s tried to manage it but he’s sure it is getting worse. Due to the remoteness of his employment location and his type of roster, it isn’t easy for Craig to get into a GP. Craig has been called into the office and warned about the number of days he has not reported for work. He’s embarrassed to talk about the condition with his supervisor and is finding himself experiencing sleeplessness and signs of depression. Craig is going to work even though he knows his condition is deteriorating. He knows his performance at work is suffering but he feels that if he admits he is not coping, he will lose his position. He feels mentally drained by the pressure he’s under and is wondering whether it is all worth it. He is scared to leave his job even though he’s under this pressure, because he knows how difficult it is to find another job in the current circumstances.
*May* is a young employee who has just found out she’s pregnant. She’s scared that her employer will find out and terminate her employment to avoid paying parental leave. She’s also worried to ask about attending her regular pre-natal check-ups because her employer may learn of her pregnancy. She even monitors the timing of her toilet breaks in case other employees or her boss learn of her state.
*Rebecca*, like May, is pregnant, but because she is viewed favourably by the boss she has had her work duties changed recently. This has meant she has lighter work duties and more reasonable rosters. Other employees have noticed this favourable treatment and see it as being inconsistent and unfair, but are too scared to raise it because they feel they cannot speak openly in the workplace any more about fairness.
These employees have one thing in common; they are all permanent employees in everything but name and conditions. Under the Fair Work Act (2009) these matters should be able to be resolved but the fact that up to 40% of employees are now in a similar position to these five individuals shows the spread of casualisation and the associated erosion of worker conditions. And it is across all industries: education, health, trades, office workers and receptionists, in aged and disability care.
Despite numerous state based enquiries there is no hint of a let up in the casualisation march. It seems to be expanding and despite numerous government enquiries and comments made by unions about the impact of labour hire firms in workplaces, the prospect of any changes seems to be a long way away for those caught in the trap of casual employment.
Mrs Neaton said, “We must stop this insidious threat in our mining towns, in our manufacturing sector and in our retail, hospitality and service industries. We must stand up for rights at work for our current workers and for the next generation of workers. Surely we are not afraid to raise our collective voices about our disappointment with sham contracting, the use of labour hire firms to deflect responsibility from employers and the growing incidence of underemployment and insecure work. We must not allow the conditions which have been fought for by previous generations to be eroded by corporate greed and short sighted government policies.”
“Our elected representatives owe it to their communities to improve the workplace relations system and to stand up for the people in their electorates in the face of a challenge to the Australian ‘fair go’.”
Currently there is a State Government enquiry into labour hire industry practices in Queensland. Submissions close 24 March 2016. The Queensland Council of Unions has an effective user friendly website tool to help people to tell their stories about labour hire and casualisation. Employees can tell their stories on line at: https://www.securejobsqld.org.au/
Sent to The Morning Bulletin 26/2/16 - waiting to see if it is published.