Court ruling on casual workers ‘exposes industry exploitation’
Summary: A FEDERAL Court ruling that a casual dump truck driver employee was entitled to annual leave has exposed the mining industry’s willingness to exploit workers.....
That’s the opinion of The Courier-Mail readers who responded to a story about the massive implications for the Morrison Government following the August decision.
Queenslander Paul Skene was employed by WorkPac, a labour hire company, as a casual dump truck mine operator in Central Queensland from July 2010 to April 2012.
The fly-in, fly-out worker’s roster was set a year in advance. It was seven days on and seven days off.
Employed under the Mining (Coal) Industry Workplace Agreement, he received a loading because he was a casual, earning $50 an hour, which later increased to $55 an hour. But when his employment was terminated in 2012, he lodged an application with the Federal Circuit Court for compensation for unpaid leave.
The court ruled in his favour, saying he was not a casual employee and should have been paid annual leave entitlements.
The decision should expose the practices of mining companies in the way they hire and fire employees, said reader Brad.
“Seems very few can read between the lines. It’s not about leave loading and entitlements built into flat rates. It’s about mining companies using cheap, expendable casual labour as faux permanent employees,” he wrote.
“The mining companies assign these casuals a permanent position on a crew with a roster that’s set many years in advance, thus making them permanent.”
Another reader suggested mining companies only use labour hire companies to avoid having to pay out benefits when they terminate employees.
“Industry use labour hire so they can get rid of people without making big one-off payments,” wrote Peter.
The employers’ organisation Ai Group has predicted businesses could face up to $8 billion in backpay.
It has demanded the new laws end “double-dipping” of casual employees and asked how was it fair for businesses to pay loading for casual work as well as entitlements that permanent part-time workers get.
Casual workers generally do not have access to leave entitlements such as annual leave and redundancy pay. But they get a loading, usually about 25 per cent.
Under the Fair Work Act there is no definition of casual employment — and this has created a significant problem.
The court ruled that because Skene knew his roster well in advance, his hours were regular and there was pattern of work, he could not be considered a casual employee and that he be paid annual leave entitlements.
In light of the ruling, what does that mean for the casual university student who works the same set hours and days each week? Or the single mother who relies on regular, long-term casual work or the pensioner topping up their aged pension?
National Retail Association chief executive officer Lindsay Carroll said there would be dire consequences if the ruling was extended to other industries such as retail.
“Should the WorkPac precedent be extended to other industries, it would result in many mum-and-dad small businesses going down the plughole, along with thousands of jobs.”
Reader Isabella thought the decision meant that students and the single mother weren’t casuals.
“They never were. Casual means employed by the hour, like the men dubbed ‘seagulls’ who used to gather at the wharf gates each morning hoping to pick up a few scraps in the way of work hours,” she wrote.
“This is not about government regulations or red tape …. This is a matter of common law and the application of precedent. In short, it’s the correct application of the law of the land, and it’s long overdue too.”
Determining definition of casual was not that difficult, according to Nathan.
“Casual employment is supposed to a ‘paid by the hour’ ad hoc employment situation,” he wrote.
And another reader asked of Mr Skene how would he felt about “the 25% loading that he was not entitled to (but had already been paid)”, following the court decision that he’s not technically a casual.
A Federal Parliamentary Library paper this year on casual employment found Queensland and South Australia had the highest rates of casualisation.