Next week 13 previously casual workers at the Woolworths supermarket warehouse in Yennora will become permanent employees after fighting for greater job security and certainty in working hours and entitlements.

The National Union of Workers helped the 13 casual positions become permanent through a Memorandum of Understanding with the company.

According to Mark Ptolemy of the National Union of Workers (NSW Branch), “The issue of casualisation or precarious employment is a massive one and is marginalising large sections of the community.” Australia has the second highest rate of casual labour in the world.

While business offers a variety of reasons as to why casualisation is necessary, Mr Ptolemy points out that workers who cannot gain secure employment often live in poverty and are marginalised on the fringes of the community. “Ask a casual worker what it is like to apply for a car loan, let alone a mortgage. Try signing a rental lease as a casual worker. It is nigh on impossible. We have seen more than a few cases of workers, rostered as casuals, living in their cars,” he says.

Mr Ptolemy continues, “We at the NUW have sought to address the casual worker issue by identifying that many positions exist as full time and not casual positions. Can anyone explain how a person who may be doing the same shift for more than a year is filling a “casual” spot? Most casuals are filling roles that are full time, if not in name then certainly in nature. We argue that any employee that has been working in a role consistently for more than 6 months should be afforded a permanent position. In some cases we push to have a clause written into Enterprise Agreements that recognise the rights of casual workers to be offered a job that exists as a full time role.

“Other times, such as with Woolworths at Yennora, we draw up a Memorandum of Understanding to address the matter. Woolworths, to their credit have acted to improve the lives of their people who have worked in their warehouse for a long time as casuals. We also argue that the number of casuals used should be open to negotiation, say as a 80% to 20% ratio, to protect the existence of permanent positions.

“All workers need a level of security and financial stability. Not only for them personally, but in a broader economic and societal context. The cop-out arguments against enshrining a cap on casualisation within modern Awards or EBAs do nothing to further productivity or flexibility.

Precarious employment adds hardship to the lives of many Australians,” Mr Ptolemy concludes.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is preparing a submission to the Fair Work Commission to give more workers the right to become permanent employees and wants a clause introduced into modern awards allowing casuals to become permanent.

However, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said his organisation was “vigorously opposed” to the unions’ casual employment claims because they were not in the interest of employers who depended on flexible workplaces.

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