Omnibus changes to casual employment in place

The fair work commission has finalised the Omnibus Bill’s changes to casual workers in the Industrial Awards system, leaving casual workers with even less rights than before.  

Earlier this year the ETU, CFMEU and other unions fought hard against the proposed Omnibus Bill. We were successful in getting most negative changes removed from the Bill, but changes to casual employment rules were passed.

The Bill amended some of the rules around casual employment in the Fair Work Act. Previously, casual employees covered by the Electrical Contracting Award used to be able to request to be converted to permanent employment after six months if they had regularly performed work during that 6-month period. 

Now, casual employees covered by the Electrical Contracting Award no longer have this right.

Instead, employers have an obligation to offer casual employees conversion to permanent employment after they have been employed for 12 months – but this ‘obligation’ isn’t really enforceable. Employers don’t’ have to make an offer if there are “reasonable grounds” not to, or if the casual employee hasn’t worked a regular pattern of hours during that 12-month period.

For example, if a casual employee does shift work, and the shift roster changes regularly, then that person cannot request to convert to permanent employment. 

In practical terms, it is unlikely that casual workers will be able to convert to permanent employment through this clause.

Another of the amendments means that the definition of a “casual employee” in the Electrical Contracting Award has changed. Now, for all practical purposes, an employee is employed as a casual if the employer says so when they are hired. This is the case even if those “casual employees” aren’t able to turn down shifts or take time off, which is one of the benefits that casual employment is supposed to provide employees.

Because of this, it is now also virtually impossible for long-term casual employees who work regular patterns of hours to claim they are actually permanent employees and should be entitled to annual leave, sick leave and other permanent entitlements.

“The ‘obligation’ to convert casual employees to permanent employees which, in reality, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on is a classic example of the Liberal government misleading voters into thinking they’re on the side of workers when the truth is far from it,”

ETU National Legal Counsel, Cassandra Taylor.

Most ETU and CEPU members are covered by an enterprise agreement (EA), and not the Electrical Contracting Award. For workers covered by an EA, these changes won’t have any impact on their employment. It’s one of the reasons why being in the union and having a union-negotiated agreement is so important and valuable for workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us in the last 18 months, how precarious employment is for casual workers. It was the perfect opportunity for the Morrison Federal Government to increase worker protections and create more secure work. However, instead they used the pandemic as a chance to undermine the rights of casual workers, who were already in a vulnerable position.

The Morrison Government will continue to erode the rights of working Australians while it remains in power, so please think about this when choosing who to vote for in the upcoming federal election.

This article was publised on 28 October 2021.