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The definition of 'casual worker' could be about to change

Casual work may receive a new definition. Images: Getty
Casual work may receive a new definition. Images: Getty

Unfair dismissal laws and casual worker definitions could be changed following a major review into Australia’s workplace relations laws.

Attorney-General and new Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has announced a review that could change Australia’s industrial landscape, arguing that widespread confusion about workplace definitions has to end.

The Morrison government told business leaders earlier this week that the government planned to take a “fresh look” at industrial relations in Australia, to be led by Porter. This review marks the first workplace relations review since John Howard’s controversial “Work Choices” program more than a decade ago.

Porter said the six to nine month review will aim to remove the “confusion and frustration” around how casual work is defined.

This comes after the Federal Court ruled a former Rio Tinto truck driver, who was hired through a labour hire company as a contractor, was actually a permanent employee and was entitled to the benefits that come with that.

The court decided the employee was working with the regularity and frequency of a permanent worker, and was a casual employee in name only.

However, the Australian Industry Group described the Court’s finding as a “kick in the guts” and called for the definition of casual workers in the eyes of the law to be aligned with employers’ definitions, rather than workplace practices. As it stands, there is no definition for casual employee in the Fair Work Act.

"Everyone benefits from having clarity in the system," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The review will also consider the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, with Porter telling The Australian that the Fair Work Commission’s current way of processing unfair dismissal claims was “ripe for improvement”.

Additionally, the government wants to impose stricter penalties on employers who exploit migrant workers and remove barriers to deregistering unions and union officials.

Unions respond

Porter told the Sydney Morning Herald he wanted to make decisions outside of the influence of different advocate groups, and argued the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) Change the Rules campaign stretched the truth on the state of casual work in Australia.

However, ACTU secretary Sally McManus told Yahoo Finance that the Coalition did not go to the May election with a mandate for industrial relations change.

“He has no mandate to weaken working people’s rights and attack their freedom to come together to get more job security and better wages,” McManus said.

“We have written to the Prime Minister asking him to consider what working people need – more secure jobs, strong rights at work and fair pay rises.”

Continuing, McManus warned that laws allowing employers to decide who is casual and who is not - based on contract over work duties and hours - would go against “decades of court rulings” which have protected workers.

“Courts have upheld that casual work is short-term, intermittent and irregular,” she said.

“The Morrison Government is seeking to destroy these protections which would allow employers to simply call a job “casual”, even if it is regular and on-going. This will have widespread ramifications for all permanent jobs as employers will be able to convert them to “casual” removing guaranteed hours, rights and job security protections.”

McManus also argued that employers want Porter to weaken unfair dismissal laws, which would in turn make it easier for employers to “arbitrarily sack people”.

“We already have too many insecure jobs, this will make the problem much worse.”

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