Business leaders were shocked after a recent court ruling imposed on labour hire firm Workpac, and the company’s subsequent decision not to appeal that decision, should pay annual leave and other accrued entitlements to certain workers, despite them being paid on casual contracts.
That sparked calls that casual employees were effectively being allowed to “double-dip” on entitlements, given the casual loading is meant to offset these provisions, with claims the decision could cost employers “billions” if applied to all businesses retrospectively.
While Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer told My Business that the government would “carefully examine” the potential problems the court verdict imposes on business, the NSW Business Chamber is not waiting.
It lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission to create what it called a “perma-flexi” category of employment.
“The category accepts the Workpac decision but ensures that employers retain the needed flexibility that casual employment offers,” the chamber said.
“The chamber has launched the case to make sure that employers and employees can move forward without double dipping of employment benefits.”
Stephen Cartwright, the chamber’s CEO, suggested there could be a rare display of solidarity between business groups and unions, given that both sides have been pushing for better clarity of the regulations.
“We expect full support for our application from the ACTU and unions that are party to these awards because the union movement has been campaigning publicly for some years now for casual employees to be given more security of employment, and our application will achieve this outcome for many employees currently engaged as regularly rostered casuals,” he said.
“For the last 120 years, business has employed casual employees and paying them a higher hourly rate in lieu of annual leave and sick leave. The Federal Court’s recent decision in the Workpac case indicated that some casuals can now claim both the casual loading and annual leave and sick leave on top of this.
“Australian businesses are stunned and understandably frustrated by this decision. It seems that under the current Fair Work laws, many casual employees have become something else. The current system of modern awards has been upended and we must get this fixed as soon as possible.”
The ACTU has been contacted for comment.