ACTU Targeting Job Security

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At the end of September the ACTU unveiled their national campaign on non-permanent employment – Secure Jobs, Better Future – which includes a mix of changes to workplace and tax laws and enterprise agreements to prevent contract, labour-hire and casual employment arrangements “unless they are absolutely necessary and offer genuine benefits to workers and employers”.

Ged Kearney, the ACTU President, cited results from a survey of 42,000 Union members showing nearly 50% of non-permanent workers were dissatisfied with their level of job security. But about 75% said they were studying, preferred part-time work or had family responsibilities. Ms Kearney said the Union would look at “all sorts of responses” to the results, including legislative changes to the Fair Work Act, or tax reform, or enterprise bargaining.

So should the nation’s non-Union represented self-employed (representing over 2 million people), over half of whom are independent contractors, be concerned? Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong said the ACTU proposal was unworkable and illogical – “People are often happy to be casual because they have higher rates”, he said. Stephen Smith, industrial relations director of the Australian Industry Group agreed: “What we’ve found is that 99% of casuals offered permanent employment don’t want it”.

More recently the Recruitment & Consulting Services Association also rejected the ACTU claims arguing that many casuals are genuinely happy in their roles and that the survey was “not an indicative sample” of the working population. (Actually it’s not even an indicative sample of the non-permanent working population given it comprises around 1%.) But this is unlikely to factor into the ACTU push for change.

Ken Phillips of Independent Contractors Australia said Unions usually spend lots of time and money engaged in guerrilla warfare-style tactics to get changes like these through. “They’ll get little wins at a time. They might make attempts under the industrial relations laws that a particular company cannot use contractors”. Once an enterprise bargaining agreement has been put in place at an organisation, which includes a clause preventing the company from using contract or part time/casual staff, the agreement applies to ALL employees whether Union members or not. “Once a win is in place in that sector, the Union moves on to the next until eventually after 10 years, no-contract-labour rules are in place across a range of industry sectors and people scratch their heads thinking ‘How did we get here?’ What it takes is for a company to be willing to stand up and say ‘No we don’t want that clause in’.”

Currently the Australian Industry Group is appealing against a decision to approve an enterprise agreement covering Victorian electricians, arguing that clauses restricting contractors, giving broader Union right of entry and requiring employers to encourage Union membership are unlawful.

Ms Kearney indicated another option would be ‘tax reform’. We’ve seen this of late in the construction industry with the CFMEU pushing for more compliance and reporting on the part of businesses using contractors. The result is most companies eventually stop using contractors because the reporting burden is too cumbersome.

I’m not sure whether anyone really thought this through properly. Whilst the campaign may at face value look like providing better job security by pushing for more permanent places, I tend to agree with business groups that it most likely will result in the opposite. If you look at this logically, according to the ACTU there are about 4 million workers (about 40% of the workforce) in casual work, short-term contracts and labour-hire arrangements. But I don’t believe 4 million will get full-time jobs because there just aren’t 4 million full-time jobs lying around waiting for someone to fill them. So only a very small percentage of the total will get full-time work leaving the remainder unemployed.

Think about retail and hospitality – two large employers of casual staff. Let’s just say you run a McDonalds and have 15 casual staff. You’re now told that under the law you must have full-time staff only – but there isn’t enough work for 15 full-time places. You only need say 5. It’s simple maths – 10 are now out of a job.

What about students? Many work part-time to pay for their education. If permanent work is the only option they either now have a HECS debt their grandchildren will be paying off, or they can’t work and can’t fund their education. We go back to the time when higher education was only for the rich.

And finally, mums and dads. Many parents look for flexible part-time employment after they have children – not just because they want to but many because they have to, to help with the household bills. Given the skyrocketing cost of utilities, more will be. Over 300 men and women work from home as Virtual Assistants – as contractors. Over 1 million are self-employed independent contractors. If this is no longer allowed and if these people have to either stay at home full-time or get permanent employment this is going to increase pressure on day care centres who are already struggling now. Who provides the extra places? Who looks after the families who end up in crisis because they cannot afford to live?

You simply cannot legislate for no contract, labour-hire or part-time positions and not expect wider ranging ramifications.

If you’re a casual, contract or part-time employee and you like it that way be sure to let your employer know – for that matter, be sure your Union representative knows you like the arrangements and your reasons. And business owners can make sure to read every clause in an enterprise bargaining agreement to ensure you retain the right to use contract or casual staff.

 

What do you think? Are you a casual, labour-hire or contract worker and want your rights to a job protected? Share your thoughts below!

 

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop – www.execstress.com

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