23 February 2021

Anthony Forsyth: “[I]t is in the [IR Omnibus] Bill’s provisions on casual employment that we can most see the government’s opportunism in latching onto the pandemic. To understand this, we need to take a step back. In 2018 and again last year, the Federal Court up-ended what has become a common practice of many employers: engaging casual employees for long periods of time, so they are almost permanent but without the rights of permanent staff. … So what does the Bill say? It is quite devious, presenting the façade of adopting the Federal Court’s definition of a casual — someone who does not have a firm commitment from their employer to ongoing work, according to an agreed pattern of work. But then the Bill adds other elements to the proposed casual definition, including how the work is described in the employment contract — thus preserving the power of employers to designate an employee as casual. The Bill also freezes the assessment of employment status (casual or not) as at the time the employment begins. A court could have no regard to how the employment evolves or changes over time. All of this would return us to the position that prevailed before the Federal Court stepped in. Employers would have maximum power to engage and keep an employee as a casual, no matter how regular their shifts become or for how many years they are employed. … If passed into law, this Bill will only intensify insecure work and enable employers to push through reductions in wages and conditions in the name of ‘economic recovery’. … All up, the Coalition’s Bill tells Australian workers: ‘thanks, but really, no thanks, for all your efforts in the pandemic’. Cross-bench senators need to tell the government: it’s just not on.”