New industrial relations changes at Fair Work will hurt casual workers and job security, unions say

New industrial relations changes at Fair Work will hurt casual workers and job security, unions say
Casual workers will be kept out of permanent positions for longer, under new IR reforms, unions say. (Brendon Thorne, Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Industrial relations changes set out by the Morrison government have now been implemented by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
  • A key feature defines casual work and maps out how employers should transition staff to permanent work.
  • However, the unions have criticised the new rules, arguing it delays back the pathway from six to 12 months, and waters down job security.
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The industrial relations Omnibus Bill passed earlier this year will be felt by casual workers nationwide, after the Fair Work Commission (FWC) adopted it.

Setting out a definition of casual work, a key feature of the Bill formalised the relationship between employers and staff and the obligations of each under it.

Ostensibly the measure was intended to provide a pathway for casual workers to become permanent staff after 12 months, earning the relevant work rights to leave and other conditions in doing so.

On Tuesday however, the unions launched another broadside against the Morrison government, claiming the changes had actually weakened the position of Australian casuals.

Affecting 13 awards from building and construction to manufacturing, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said the new work definition would actually delay the move into permanent work from six to 12 months.

“This decision, which flows directly from the IR Omnibus Bill, is a huge blow for the rights of casual workers,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said. “The Morrison Government is eroding workers’ rights, and making work more insecure, award by award.”

Specifically, the changes place greater emphasis on contracts rather than the nature of the work itself.

 “Under these new rules it doesn’t matter if a worker under those awards does regular hours, has rosters that can stretch for up to a year, and has been with the company for months and months, they can still be simply deemed a casual by their boss,” McManus said.

At the end of the 12 months, employers retain the right to refuse permanent work to an employee under “reasonable business ground”, a provision that some legal experts say will be subject to dispute. Staff may also reject an offer should they choose.

The impact will be one of the first to be felt by workers from the Morrison government’s tilt at industrial relations reform. The Omnibus Bill titled ‘Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery’, had been a major part of that push, initially identifying five different areas in need of an update.

Yet the changes to casual work was one of the few left standing by the time the Bill passed through Parliament.

Other proposals, including changes to awards and enterprise bargaining, were eventually dropped as the government’s appetite for major reform wavered.