WAYNE MCMILLAN. Insecure work by another name

The NSW Business Chamber and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) are leading the charge on behalf of employer business interests. It’s obvious that both their main concerns are to create a new class of insecure workers that can be dismissed at the whim of employers under the guise of better pay. Flexibility without security will only create a new underclass of workers who will be disadvantaged.

The NSW Business Chamber wants to create a new class of worker, called “perma-flex”.1. Under this proposal, employers will roster workers on a casual basis but pay a much lower wage, with no guarantee of hours. They would have lower casual loading on their pay but would be offered leave entitlements, including sick and annual leave. The NSW Business Chamber has made application to the Fair Work Commission to create this new class of employee in reaction to the Federal Court case of fly-in fly out casual worker Paul Skene who was awarded accrued annual leave pay. Queensland fly-in, fly-out worker Paul Skene was employed as a casual for two-and-a-half years. However the Federal Court found he wasn’t a casual employee for the purposes of the Fair Work Act due to the consistent nature of his roster. This resulted in him being awarded accrued leave payments, a decision his employer didn’t appeal. Creating a perma-flex class of workers could destroy permanent work in Australia, as workers would have no control over securing permanent work.

Kate Carnell aka Teflon Kate originally chair of the ACT Branch of the Australian Pharmacy Guild, then past Chief Minister of the ACT nick-named Teflon Kate because of a series of  incidents and some  business arrangements the ACT government was involved with in regards to commercial undertakings. Kate is now the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), and she has taken up the fight for perma–flex workers on behalf of the business interests lobby. Her rationale for creating this new class of worker is this: “What we’re suggesting is something that sits in between casual and permanent where you get an extra 10 per cent loading on the hourly rate, you get holiday pay, you get sick pay and you get notice of termination. But, your hours are flexible.”2. Speaking to Raf Epstein on ABC Melbourne on 26 September 2018, Ms Carnell stated that if workers were disadvantaged by the category proposed by the business lobby, then the Fair Work Commission wouldn’t let it through.3.

Ms Carnell seems to be oblivious to the BOOT, the overall better off test. This test only applies to enterprise agreements to see if workers are better off than under an award, not award reviews. Modern award reviews which the business lobby appears to be pushing with this new classification would not be subject to the BOOT. The cuts to penalty rates which clearly did disadvantage workers were the result of business lobby submissions to the modern award review process.4.

Australia already has a problem with insecure work according to a May 2018 report from the Centre for Future Work using statistics from the ABS for 2016-17.5. Part-time share of total employment is 31.7%, Underemployment as a share of total employment is 9.1%, The share of employees without paid leave entitlements is 25.1 %. Even contractors are doing it tough the proportion of self-employed individuals working part-time has grown markedly in recent years, reaching 35 % in 2017.6. In addition Australia has a higher broad labour underutilisation rate of 28.1% than the OECD average of 28.9% 7.

If the Business lobby has its way and the NSW Chamber of Commerce and The Small Business Ombudsman seems to be keen to do this, then workers in the aged sector and like industries will have to face a new set of working conditions without guarantee of security in tenure, pay or working conditions.

For part-time workers the median part-time weekly earnings increased $40 for women in 2017 after two years of no growth, and the median weekly earnings for men working part-time increased $10-$20 each year over the same period. For part-time workers, the median employee earnings in 2017 was $500 per week, with women higher at $540 per week compared to $435 for males. 8.

Over the previous five years, 2012 to 2017, the average annual growth of median weekly earnings for male full-time casual employees was 0.8%, down from the 4.1% recorded over the period from 2007 to 2012. 9. In contrast, the average annual growth of median weekly earnings for female full-time casual employees was 2.7%, down slightly from the 3.0% recorded over 2007-2012.

The overall proportion of employees working on a casual basis increased from 23.5% in August 2012 to 25.1% in August 2017. This increase was driven mainly by full-time casual employees, with the overall proportion of full-time casual employees increasing from 10.3% of full-time employees in August 2012 to 11.6% in August 2017.10.

This trend to an increase in casualization and accompanying poor rates of pay, indicates already that many Australian workers are in precarious work relationships and the move to a further deterioration in security of tenure and rates of pay, is a retrograde step for Australian workers.

  1. https://www.nswbusinesschamber.com.au/Media-Centre/Latest-News/September-2018/CHAMBER-APPLIES-TO-CREATE-NEW-CLASSIFICATION-OF-EM
  2. https://www.3aw.com.au/small-business-new-perma-flexi-category-good-for-workers-and-employees/
  3. http://www.abc.net.au/radio/people/rafael-epstein/7347628
  4. https://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/media-releases/2018/carnell-s-statements-on-insecure-work-factually-wrong
  5. T and Stanford . J The Dimensions of Insecure Work: A Factbook, Centre For Future Work, May 29, 2018.
  6. T and Stanford . J The Dimensions of Insecure Work: A Factbook, Centre For Future Work, May 29, 2018, p.11.
  7. See https://www.oecd.org/els/oecd-employment-outlook-19991266.htm
  8. See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/6333.0Media%20Release1August%202017?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=6333.0&issue=August%202017&num=&view=
  9. See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/6333.0?OpenDocument
  10. See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/6333.0?OpenDocument

Wayne McMillan is a resident of Whalan NSW,   a NSW Public Service Association (PSA) member of 32 years, past  (PSA) union delegate ,  central councillor and  a life- long advocate of unions. Wayne is a third generation union activist.

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