Casual workers push to change the rules

Young Workers Centre Coordinator Keelia Fitzpatrick at the ‘18: End Wage Theft Now! conference. Picture: Nuttchanok Chiamsakul

By NUTTCHANOK CHIAMSAKUL

Parts of Melbourne’s CBD were brought to a standstill today as tens of thousands of people rallied in support of the ACTU’s push to increase the minimum wage.

The Change the Rules rally also called for action on widespread job insecurity, the cuts in  penalty rates and unfair wages among casual workers.

 You can find your minimum wage and employee entitlements at https://www.fairwork.gov.au/.

In a recent speech pushing for a tougher Fair Work Commission, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said people stuck in insecure work were being exploited by big businesses.

“People who work for companies that are household names have not even been paid the minimum wages our laws require,” Ms McManus said.

“Workers have lost power because our rules at work are broken.”

Casual employees made up 25 per cent of the Australian workforce in August 2016, according to a Federal Parliament research paper released earlier this year.

The study also found casual workers are much more likely to experience irregular pay, with 53 per cent facing variable earnings from one pay period to the next, compared to just 15 per cent of permanent workers.

Chadstone business owner Roman Nluo. Photo: Nuttchanok Chiamsakul

Young Workers Centre coordinator Keelia Fitzpatrick said the rules of casual employment were not strict enough, which meant casual workers were often exploited.

“We’re seeing people who are effectively full-time employees classified as casual employees, and that’s just so that employers can avoid paying the entitlements and wages that come with full-time work,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.

An estimated 79 per cent of hospitality employers failed to comply with the award wage system from 2013 to 2016, another Federal Parliament report found.

Monash Engineering graduate Jo Lee worked at a takeaway restaurant where she was asked to work up to 50 hours a week and was paid lower than the base casual rate.

“Most of the time, employees are not made aware of their rights, which they are supposed to be by their employers,” Ms Lee said.

Casual workers are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 38 hours per week.

Ms Lee said even though she was exploited by her workplace, casual employment gave her a better work/life balance.

“But as much as casual employment delivers a certain level of flexibility, it also gives employees insecurities in their jobs,” Ms Lee said.

Chadstone restaurant owner Roman Nluo said casual workers were an important part of his business.

“We can always terminate casuals and put in the full-timers to work, but we need casuals to cover shifts the permanent staff can’t do.”