Historically a casual employee in New South Wales had a very limited avenue to become a permanent employee. Either your boss wanted you to become permanent, or they didn’t. However, due to recent changes from December 2017 the Fair Work Commission has said that casual employees now have a detailed path for requesting permanent employment status.
Casual employment in Australia is prevalent and widespread. It is an option by which many young individuals enter the workforce, as well as women (who have just given birth or are the primary carer) are able to remain a part of the workforce. Overall, these two categories of worker comprise slightly over 50% of casual workers.
A casual worker is defined by the Fair Work Act accordingly:
- Being in a position that does not have any particular set hours per week or per day
- Often allows for, or promotes, working at irregular hours
- Does not offer any benefits, such as paid time off for sickness or holidays
- May be terminated at any time without notice by either party (the exception to this factor is if an employment contract has been put into place stating otherwise)
However, casual employees do receive some bonus considerations to counteract the above:
- They are entitled to a higher rate of pay than permanent workers doing the same or similar job
- They can request parental leave
- They are protected from unfair dismissal
Another such benefit that casual employees are entitled to is called ‘casual loading’ which includes a higher rate of pay that is approximately 25%. This additional rate is in place to compensate casual employees for the lack of other benefits such as paid time off. The second benefit is called an ‘award’ which may be bestowed on a casual employee when they work a holiday. The award is usually set at time and a half (sometimes more) depending upon the type of public holiday worked.
While these limited rules and regulations provided some protection for casual workers, they were not enough. Many employers were taking advantage of casual workers and as such, legal action was taken up by Union leaders. The Union’s legal position was that after a specified time of casual employment, casual employees were to be automatically made permanent employees by their employers. The proposed time frame for the conversion was six (6) months.
Unfortunately, this proposition did not prevail. However, in light of the proposal, some significant changes were made to the laws to increase protections for casual workers. In December 2017 the Fair Work Commission accepted that the laws should change to allow for casual employees to request permanent employee status.
As such, the following guidelines were adopted:
- The casual employee has been employed for a minimum of 12 months
- The hours worked represent a pattern that could easily be continued in a permanent part-time or full time schedule
- The change would not unreasonably disrupt the employer
- The employer is responsible for giving each casual employee notice of these changes
However, the transition from casual employee to permanent employee is not one which is mandated or automatic. The employee must make a request for the change of status and the employer has the right to refuse such request. However, the refusal must be considered reasonable. Some examples of what is considered reasonable include, but are not limited to:
- The adjustment to accommodate the hours/days the employee is available for work, would be a hardship for the employer
- The current position is not likely to continue for much longer or is about to cease entirely
- The employers need for the hours currently worked by the employee is scheduled to be significantly reduced within the next year
Finally, changes were also made to some of the awards granted to casual employees. Some of these areas of employment include service persons, such as restaurant workers, beauticians, and those engaged in the hospitality industry. In addition, protections have been offered to retail workers, social and community workers and those in the pastoral profession. These changes in awards effect different professions and different employer/employees in manners that are specific to their industries. For more detailed information, please see the fair work website.
While these changes did not give automatic rights for casual workers to become full or part-time permanent employees, it did raise their status within the workforce. The new regulations have brought about an avenue for casual workers to promote their interests as permanent workers and has increased their awards of compensation to some degree. These changes open up opportunities for many who are dedicated hard working individuals.