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1.1 million Aussies 'ripped off' by casual rort, report finds

·4-min read
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 09: Nerissa Jayasingha owner of cafe Lankan Tucker takes an order from a customer on July 09, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Owners of the cafe have had to adapt their business model once again since lockdown focussing on takeaway meals,  Lankan Tucker owners Hiran Kroon and Nerissa Jayasingha believe.Lockdown measures across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire came into effect at midnight, with Victorian residents of those areas under stay at home orders for the next six weeks. Under the new lockdown restrictions, people will only able to leave home have for exercise or work, to buy essential items including food or to access childcare and healthcare. Victorians cannot gather in groups of more than two or their household group, school holidays will be extended for at least a week. Retail can remain open and markets are permitted to open for food and drink only. Cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars are back to takeaway only. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
More than a million casual workers in Australia aren't paid casual rates, even though they're owed it, a new report has found. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Half of all Australian casual workers are not paid the correct loading rates, even though they’re entitled to it, a new report has found.

Around 1.1 million, or nearly half of Australia’s casual workforce of 2.3 million workers, were not receiving their 25 per cent casual pay loading, according to the report by Griffith University professor of employment relations David Peetz.

Additionally, about a quarter of all workers had no claim to leave entitlements, regardless of whether they were casuals, which was described by Peetz as “very high by international standards”.

Workers were also being systematically misclassified as casual, even though the nature of their job wasn’t, wrote Peetz.

“The features of leave-deprived employees do not, on the surface, appear to be the characteristics of flexible, casual employment. The common feature appears to be low power,” he said.

In reality, ‘casual’ work often did not offer the flexibility it purports to.

“‘Casual’ employment reduces employee power and reduces employee entitlements – often without any offsetting ‘loading’ – under the guise of providing necessary flexibility.”

“The popular term ‘permanent casual’ is more accurately phrased as ‘permanently insecure’,” Peetz added.

Not only were half of casuals not being paid their correct pay, many were in fact being underpaid, as audits and investigations from the Fair Work Ombudsman have found.

“Even amongst those who do receive the casual loading, the wage penalty for casuals ... suggests that some (perhaps many) casuals are paid less than they otherwise would be if they were not casuals.”

Australia lags the world

Australia falls behind 88 per cent of high income countries that require casual workers to have the same leave entitlements as permanent workers, with 130 of 163 countries requiring this.

The nation was on par with the US for having a high proportion of workers with no claim to work entitlements such as paid sick leave or annual leave.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus said the report revealed casualisation was a “systemic issue” in Australia’s workforce.

“The majority of people who are casual should not be and do not receive any of the supposed benefits of casual employment,” she said.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus. (AAP Image/David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus. (AAP Image/David Crosling)

Many of the casual workers who lost their jobs were the ones who “carried us through the pandemic,” she added.

“Casualised jobs with no access to paid leave was our weakest link in our efforts to stop the spread of Covid in our communities. We now need to turn that around, not make it worse,” she said.

Casual workers were often working the same hours every week, but without any of the entitlements of permanent workers. “They are being ripped off,” she said.

“On top of the lower pay and reduced rights, casuals also contend with the constant stress of having no job security.

The Griffith University report comes as the government gears up to table a report to Parliament that will create a statutory definition of casual work, as well as create a pathway to permanent work for casuals after 12 months.

But employers are still allowed to refuse a casual worker’s request to convert to permanent if it has “reasonable grounds”, and the draft legislation threatens to deny up to $39 billion owed to employees if employers are found to have kept technically permanent staff on casual contracts.

Noting this, Labor industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke told reporters on Monday: “All they are doing is removing a right for casuals if they've been exploited.”

McManus added: “The proposal from the Morrison Government will not only entrench this, it will take rights off casual workers.”

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