Casual workers win right to request permanent employment

A landmark decision by the Fair Work Commission requires retailers to offer casual staff part-time employment after being with the business for 12 months.

The decision was welcomed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which has campaigned against what it calls the “epidemic of casualisation”.

“Too many employers have been abusing the term ‘casual’, and use it as a business model to drive down wages,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.

“Permanent positions allow people to plan for the future, to get loans, to budget, and to have a decent quality of living.”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) Executive Director Russell Zimmerman says that while the decision gives retail staff employment security, it will also reduce flexibility for retailers.

“We fear this verdict will significantly impact retailers as casuals’ flexible hours are essential to the industry,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“Given the current change-of-hours rules around part-time employees, there is a continual need for casual employees and their flexible working arrangements.”

The ARA believes the decision will only be operationally viable if retail employers are able to offer part-time workers extra hours without incurring overtime penalties, as the procedural requirements for changes to the rostered hours of part-time employees can be unrealistic for retailers.

“If there were flexibility in the hours of part-time employees, this decision might have made sense, but the retail industry experiences peaks and troughs in trade, which are an impediment to offering fixed hours for part-time employees,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“Retailers would of course love to reward those long-term staff with a set amount of hours per week, and an option to increase those hours without paying overtime. However, the existing award provisions around part-time employees highlight the necessity of casual employees. We will be acting to have those provisions changed.”

The ARA says it believes the existing requirements, combined with the new casual-conversion provisions, will only bring further challenges to Australian retailers who are already facing a difficult operating environment.

“Retail employees are an important asset for retailers and the overall industry, therefore the ARA will be seeking more flexible part-time arrangements through the Award Review process,” Mr Zimmerman said.

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