More casual staff to win permanency, FWC rules

The Australian, July 6, 2017

More casual workers will be able to move to permanent status after the industrial umpire ruled to extend casual conversion clauses to more awards, saying employers needed to show “reasonable grounds” to refuse casual staff who wanted to become permanent employees after 12 months.

The Fair Work Commission’s landmark decision has dealt a blow to unions, however, rejecting their claim for casuals to be converted to permanent employment after six months and for all casual and part-time employees to have minimum daily shifts of four hours.

The commission found little evidence that employers had “exploited” casual workers on a widespread scale by denying permanent work, but said it was “fair and necessary” for casual employees working regular hours over a long-term basis to become permanent staff.

“We accept the proposition advanced by the ACTU 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 commission said in the full bench decision.

The Australian Industry Group, which represented employers in the two-year case, said the decision would reduce flexibility for some employers but the most damaging claims by the union had been refused. “If the unions’ claims had been accepted, the jobs of thousands of casual employees were at risk,” chief executive Innes Willox said.

The commission found the unions’ bid for a four-hour minimum engagement period for casuals might reduce workforce participation, and has instead proposed a minimum two-hour daily work period.

The ACTU hailed the decision as a victory in the “first battle in the fight against the epidemic of casualisation”.

“Too many employers have been abusing the term casual, and use it as a business model to drive down wages,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said.

The commission has also varied awards applying to retail, fast-food and hair and beauty workers to give casual workers access to overtime penalty rates if they work long hours in a single day. The decision came as the unions went to court for the first time in their legal challenge against the commission’s ruling to cut penalty rates, effective from last weekend.

ACTU president Ged Kearney vowed to fight the penalty rates ruling to the High Court if necessary, declaring the law was “broken” if the controversial decision was not overturned.

Unions representing hospitality and retail workers have launched the Federal Court challenge, with judge Mordy Bromberg agreeing the case needed to be expedited.