Monday, 7 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister please outline to the House how the Morrison government is ensuring that businesses and employers have the certainty and security they need to help employ more Australians and drive our economic comeback as we recover from the COVID-19 recession?
I thank the member for his question, for his previous service for this country and for his great interest in this area. Perhaps the area of greatest uncertainty in the Australian employment market is with respect to casuals. During the COVID recession the first 500,000 jobs of 860,000 lost were casuals. So of the first 860,000 jobs lost there were 500 ,000 jobs lost. We need to regrow jobs everywhere, of course—in permanent part-time, permanent full-time—but we owe a particular obligation to have ideas that regrow jobs for casual employment in Australia.
As well as COVID-19, unfortunately, there has been a perfect storm of three structural problems in the casual employment market that need fixing. The first is that, inexplicably, there was never a definition of what a 'casual employee' is inserted into the Fair Work Act. What that means now is that, since a recent decision in a matter called Rossato on 20 May 2020, no-one can say with any certainty, going back six years, whether a person was definitively employed as a casual. Even if that's what the person wanted and even if that's what the employer wanted no-one can say whether that's what's actually occurred. And no-one can say going forward whether or not someone is actually being engaged now as a casual. Because of that confusion, the second problem that has emerged is that there's potentially a very large ability to claim double payments of business, including small businesses. Someone could potentially make a claim for back paid leave going back six years, even though at the time they were paid loadings meant to compensate for the fact that they weren't attracting leave or accruing leave in their job. The third problem is that there is no strong, consistent, universal, fair pathway for people to convert from casual employment to permanent employment, whether that be part-time or full-time permanent.
The bill that we will introduce this week will do four very important things. As well as ending that confusion, it does four things of critical importance for employees. It places a much stronger obligation on employers to offer conversion to employees after six months of regular work. It reduces the period of regular employment required to trigger that conversion from 12 months to six months. It creates an ongoing right after that offer of conversion that employers must make, so that every six months after that offer the request can be made and it can't be unreasonably refused. Further, it extends the scope of casual conversion well beyond the areas where it presently applies. We can fix this problem of confusion that is creating a barrier to employment. At the same time, for the first time, we can have a strong, consistent pathway from casual employment to permanent employment—if that's what people want to do, and they can make that decision for themselves.