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Big Win for 'Short Period' Casuals




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In a major blow to the Howard government's assault on the industrial relations system, the Federal Court has invalidated regulations under the Workplace Relations Act (WR Act) saying that there is no evidence that unfair dismissal laws inhibit employment (The Age "Dismissal law blow to Howard" 21 Nov 2001, p. 8).

The regulations held to be unlawful prevented the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) from hearing unfair dismissal applications from casual employees unless they were engaged by a particular employer on a regular and systematic basis for a sequence of periods of employment during a period of at least 12 months and had a reasonable expectation of continuing employment (Hamzy v Tricon International Restaurants and Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business [2001] FCA 1589).

This means that members of our federal union, the CPSU-SPSF such as those working in Universities as casuals will have access to the AIRC if they believe that they are unfairly dismissed even though they have been employed for more than 3 but less than 12 months.

In Universities, some 18% of staff (academic and general) are casuals.

The decision also means that Howard cannot fix the problem with new Regulations but must change the WR Act which will be a test for Simon Crean.

Similar rights for casuals were gained in NSW in March this year when the NSW IRC allowed a casual employee with less than 6 months regular and systematic service to make an unfair dismissal claim. (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, New South Wales v Librus Pty Ltd, t/as Dymocks Parramatta [2001] NSWIRComm 46).

One commentator has already suggested that these decisions will act as a disincentive to the bosses' drive towards casualisation of the workforce.

There are about 2.5 million "casual" workers in Australia or 27% of the workforce. At the beginning of the 1980's, casuals made up less than 13% of the workforce.

32% (1 in 3) of employed women are employed on a casual basis. Young people have also been hit by precarious employment practices: 59% of 16-19 year olds and 26% of 20-24 year olds are casuals. 

Smart casual? Join the union!

Only 11% of the casual workforce is unionised.

This win in the Federal Court was ONLY possible because a union took up the issue in the face of opposition of the employer (KFC), the organised bosses and the Federal Government. It's an excellent reason to sign up the casuals with whom you work. Many people do not join the union because no-one has asked them to join or because they are "only temporary". This case shows that there are real benefits to union members even if they have worked for a less than 12 months and their employment is precarious.

But the union needs to develop a strategy for casual workers in addition to campaigning for a limit of the level of casual employment to "genuine casuals" and ensuring that they receive an appropriate loading in lieu of non-wage employment entitlements. We need to re-regulate casual employment with appropriate legislative and Award provisions building on the parental leave and maternity leave gains made last year. We need to campaign for the right of long term casuals to convert to more secure forms of employment following the lead of the Metals unions earlier this year. We need to consider whether our fee structure is tiered to attract people in precarious employment.

Super Guarantee Win for Casuals
A full bench of the Federal Court (28/11/01) has overturned a court decision that allowed employers to wriggle out of paying casuals Superannuation Guarantee payments where they worked ‘overtime’ outside normal working hours.

Progressive PSA brings together rank and file trade union activists in the Public Service Association of New South Wales and the CPSU (SPSF Branch). 

We work for 

  • improved and more equitable pay 
  • greater job security
  • a democratic and strong union