||Issue No. 218||30 April 2004|
End of the Casual Affair
Interview: Terror Australis
Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Industrial: The Hell of Troy
Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
History: Vicious Old Lady
International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Review: War Unfogged
The Locker Room
Organís Manslaughter Pics
End of the Casual Affair
In many ways the growth in casual work has been the high water mark of this process - the creation of a class of workers without security of employment and its related basket of rights.
It is true that the 'flexibility' of the modern labour market has been positive for some - for students and working mums juggling varying commitments, the expansion in jobs that do not require a life long commitment works.
But for every foot loose worker there are many others trapped in the cycle of tenuous employment, working multiple casual gigs to make ends meet; without access to holidays, to sick leave or regular hours of work.
Many also find it hard to get loans for cars and homes: although some banks have recognised the sham for what it is - lending to casuals who have can show regular income for 12 months - notwithstanding the threat of instant dismissal!
So what is the union movement seeking? Three simple principles that we believe will give casuals some basic rights while recognising the need for labour market flexibility:
(i) the right for casual workers to be offered permanent employment when they have worked regularly for more than six months.
(ii) the right for labour hire workers to be paid the same rates of pay as workers employed by the host employer.
(iii) employers contracting work out must offer existing workers alternative employment with the contractor - at the same rate of pay.
The aim of all these measures is to ensure that shifts from permanent jobs are for genuine productivity reasons and not crude cost-cutting measures.
And the response of the bosses? Rather than argue the merits they have attempted to filibuster the case - 200 plus affidavits designed to give the Test Case the sort of permanency they won't give their workers.
The employers strategy of snowing the case shows their fear of this it and is a tacit admission of their reliance on casuals and contracting out to reduce wages costs.
They know that a decision that delivers some form of security to workers will effect their bottom line - proving the union argument that casual work is no longer about peaks and troughs in the labour market but about profit maximisation.
The fact the Carr Government is siding with employers on some of the key arguments is disappointing, but shows that it too has been seduced by crude economics that puts budgets ahead of the lives of workers.
What should give all casual workers some comfort is that the strident opposition shows just how effective - and ground-breaking - the measures the union movement is seeking are.
Yes, Federal Labor has promised a similar plan to allow casuals to convert to permanency nationally, but only through giving unions the power to negotiate such arrangements through the award system.
This case goes further - it will endeavour to establish some firm principles around employees rights to permanence and build some rigour into the process of contracting out.
As such it will be an important statement of our preparedness to put money ahead of people's lives or whether we have, in the NSW IRC, an institution that has the vision to build a more humane workplace for the 21st century.
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