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Casual workers may be fit for paid annual and sick leave

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By Claire Matthews

Australia’s casual workers may be eligible for paid annual and sick leave, and be able to convert to part-time or full-time work, after an industrial relations reform bill is approved in Parliament.

The changes will include a definition of casual work in the Fair Work Act and will aim to resolve issues around uncertainty, job security, leave and compensation for casual workers.

Casual workers were some of the most affected during COVID, accounting for more than half of job losses at the start of the pandemic (500 000 of 800 000).

Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter said the reforms and definition would provide more certainty for casual work.

“With so many Australians still out of work, or doing fewer hours as a result of the pandemic, we cannot do nothing when we have a situation where employers are delaying making hiring decisions because of ongoing confusion about the legal status of casual employment.

“Australia’s 2.3 million casual employees need certainty about their work arrangements and entitlements… We have struck the right balance on this issue and delivered a fair and equitable outcome that will benefit both workers and employers. It is essential that the definition provides certainty as to who is and is not a casual employee and also that it is an objective standard.”

In the new scheme, casual workers will also be able to convert to part-time or full-time work after 12 months. Mr Porter said this arrangement would lead to greater job security.

“The changes to casual conversion rights strike that essential balance, ensuring those working regular shift patterns who want greater job security can convert to part-time or full-time work, while maintaining the existing rights for employers to refuse such requests if there are reasonable grounds.”

The reforms will also address a recent case which found casual workers could be eligible for benefits like annual and sick leave, which are usually covered in their casual loading.

Mr Porter said resolving this ‘double-dipping’ issue will give businesses more confidence in hiring casual workers, and so provide more opportunities.

“The solution we will introduce to the double-dipping problem created by the Rossato decision will give business the confidence and certainty they need to invest, grow and start hiring again knowing that they will not have to pay people twice for things like sick leave and loadings always meant to compensate casual workers.

“These are significant reforms which together will solve the problem of uncertainty, provide better avenues for job security, remove the burden of double-dipping claims and recognise employee choice.”

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