Victoria will trial a scheme to give casual workers sick pay – and one expert says it could have long-term benefits

Casual workers in Victoria could get sick pay

Victoria will be giving casual workers sick pay under a new pilot scheme, which an employment relations expert believes is “long overdue”.

Victoria is developing a “Secure Work Pilot Scheme” where casual workers will get up to five days worth of sick and carer’s pay. The two year pilot will be offered to employees in highly casualised sectors such as hospitality workers, aged care workers, cleaners, security guards and supermarket staff.

“When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement. “The ultimate decision they make isn’t wrong – what’s wrong is they’re forced to make it at all.

“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it – and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The scheme will be introduced in two phases over two years, with the occupations eligible for each phase to be determined after a consultation process involving industry groups, workers, and unions.

As part of Victoria’s state budget, $5 million will be allocated for consultation on how the scheme will be designed, including factors like what documents will need to be required and what protections employees will have.

The state government also mentioned a levy for the scheme. “While any future ongoing scheme would be subject to an industry levy, the pilot scheme will be fully funded by the Victorian Government at no cost to business,” the state government said.

This program is an extra step the state government is taking after rolling out pandemic leave payments for employees who don’t have any other leave entitlements.

Kantha Dayaram, Associate Professor in Employment Relations at Curtin University, welcomed the scheme, telling Business Insider Australia, “I think it is long overdue.”

“It was actually the COVID-19 pandemic that has highlighted how precarious casual employment is,” she said. “And going forward it is something that federal government should be looking into more seriously.”

Dayaram said the coronavirus pandemic highlighted how vulnerable casual workers are, especially in employment sectors that are considered essential, like aged care. She added that casual employees are in work environments where there is no job security and when they fall ill, there isn’t a sufficient financial ‘buffer’ to support them.

“What then happens – and we’ve seen this during the pandemic – if they suspect they’re not feeling well they’ll still go ahead with work because there’s uncertainty in terms of employment,” she said. “That is how we found that during the pandemic in Victoria, there was this continued community spread amid workers in certain employment sectors like in the meat works industry and in aged care.”

With paid sick leave for casual workers, these workers can take the time off that they need.

“By having paid sick leave, you would find that workers with these casual type of employment arrangements would at least be able to take that time off, get themselves well, protect themselves as well as those with whom they work,” she said. “So overall, it’s a win-win situation for the employee and the employer.”

The challenges of the leave scheme

The Australian Industry Group slammed the proposed scheme, arguing that is “deeply flawed”.

“Casuals receive a 25% casual loading in lieu of sick leave and carer’s leave entitlement, and therefore providing a separate entitlement would be ‘double-dipping’,” CEO Innes Willox said in a statement.

Willox also believes the levy could impact businesses. “The levy would, in effect, be a tax on employment and would be another deterrent to employers investing in Victoria,” he added. “This flawed proposal needs to be abandoned.”

According to The Age, Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas described the levy as “modest”, with Dayaram saying it “not going to be a massive outlay of funds” for small businesses.

“In the bigger scheme of things – and looking at it holistically – it’s not going to make such a big dent in terms of the levy that would be paid because it will come back to just how many people are on casual employment contracts,” she said.

“If it’s going to be a bigger business that has got a lot more casual employees, you’ve really got to be asking why is that business employing so many people on casual employment contracts?”

Dayaram also sees the long term benefit of having paid leave for casual workers, particularly as it would curb the spread of illnesses to other employees.

“For small businesses that tend to employ people on casual on a casual basis, in the long term they would see the benefit in terms of not having somebody who is ill coming into work and then having the spread of whatever illness or disease.”

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