CASE: A court decision giving rights to casuals has put the spotlight on the exploitation of casual workers, the author says.The employer community is putting on quite a show about a recent Federal Court decisionthat a casual labour hire coal miner employed full-time for years was not really a casualunder the law and was therefore owed some paid leave.
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They claim the WorkPac v Skene decision is a disaster due to the vast extent to whichn businesses use casuals in regular, on-going work, that will lead to a multi-billiondollar outbreak of worker ‘double-dipping’ on casual loadings and paid leave.

Now it has emerged that WorkPac, the labour hire company at the heart of this case, islobbying politicians to support legislative change negating the decision because it would beunfair on small to medium businesses.

Um, what?

A quick look at this case tells us this is very much a story about exploitation of casual labourby some of the biggest, richest, multinational companies operating in – inparticular, the big mining companies.

The companies WorkPac supplies labour to include global mining giants BHP, Glencore andAngloAmerican.

Paul Skene, the mineworker at the centre of this case, worked at a Rio Tintocoal mine in Central Queensland. These are no mum-and-dad outfits.

Long-term casual work is unfortunately the harsh reality for a large and growing number ofn workers. But it’s no surprise that this decision exposing the blatant, systematicmisuse of casuals has come out of coal mining.

Mining companies have been ruthlesspioneers of the ‘permanent casual’ work model. In the past few years, the industry has seen exponential growth in the use of casual workerssupplied by third party labour firms. Across the NSW coalfields, typically up to half ofworkers are not directly employed by the mine operator, but by labour hire contractors.

The jobs filled by casual labour hire workers aren’t casual at all. In fact, casual coalmineworkers perform the same work on the same rosters as permanent employees overperiods of years.

Like Paul Skene, they are often provided rosters that are set 12 months ormore in advance and are required to attend every shift, day in and day out.

But instead of being financially compensated, casual mineworkers typically earn hourly rates30 per cent less than permanents – and that’s including the casual loading that employers claimmakes it all worthwhile.

Casuals get no paid holidays or sick leave and they live with theconstant threat of being ‘stood down’ or ‘let go’ at any time, like if it’s raining, or they raisea safety concern or ask for a holiday.There is precisely zero benefit and significant cost to mineworkers of being employedcasually.

While labour hire operators like WorkPac are the direct employers of casual workers inmining, this model is actively driven by the big mining companies. For them, it is cheaperand more convenient to have a divided and insecure workforce.

Employer groups’ melodramatic claims about the impact on small businesses seeks todistract from the exploitative labour hire business model that has been exposed and furtherbolster their rights to unimpeded access to a casualised workforce.

The WorkPac v Skene decision was based on circumstances that are extremely common incoal mining, where casual workers are rostered a year in advance, work full-time regularhours and are indistinguishable from permanents.

While employer groups’analysis hasshown up their over-reliance on casual employment, these circumstances aren’t present inmany other industries and the broader relevance of the decision is still to be determined.

Using it as an excuse to seek to further erode access to permanent and predictable work –with brainwaves like the ‘perma-flexi’ contract – for workers in industries such as hospitality,aged care and retail is cynical and opportunistic.

We have a better idea. If employers are concerned about workers claiming both a casualloading and paid leave there is a simple solution: employ people correctly.

There is nocapacity to “double dip” if an employee is correctly categorised.

Our political representatives should not underestimate the strength of feeling in thecommunity about casualisation.

As to the famous ‘pub test’ they are so fond of, I dare themto go to a pub in the Hunter Valley and to convince the patrons that the ‘permanent casual’mode of employment is good for workers and families. However, I wouldn’t recommend it,for safety reasons.

Tony Maher is the National President of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union