12 November 2020

Earlier in question time, Senator Payne was asked to confirm that casual workers with less than 12 months continuity are not covered by the unfair dismissal protections under the Fair Work Act. Senator Payne was also asked to confirm whether or not One Nation senators in this place were advised that casuals with less than 12 months employment are not covered by unfair dismissal protections. The minister was asked to explain to the Senate, and through it to the Australian people, why the government are leaving casual workers exposed and vulnerable to unfair dismissal in favour of workers who are eligible for the hiring credit. Unfortunately, what we got from the minister today was an absolute zero answer to our question. That’s not a surprise. After all, it is very clear that this government is all about announcements and no substance when it provides answers to this place.

Let’s review a few facts about casual workers in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were just over 2.6 million casual workers before the pandemic hit. At 24 per cent, that’s just under a quarter of all workers nationally, up from 19 per cent in the late 1990s. The work is in retail, trade, accommodation and food services, construction, health, education and transport—industries that are absolutely crucial to ensuring that our economy rebuilds post pandemic. Again from the ABS data, of those 2.6 million workers, one million had been with their employer for less than 12 months. Casual workers are more likely to be young and they are more likely to be women. I know this being a former union official with the SDA union, having represented these many millions of workers in retail, hospitality and warehouse jobs. Senator Farrell would know this, too, being a former official and national president.

The hiring credit leaves around a million casual workers unprotected from unfair dismissal and vulnerable to having their hours reduced or being let go. This concern has been raised by Labor, the union movement and a range of other stakeholder groups. The question is: why? Why is it that in a relatively simple amendment the government will not help protect a million of Australia’s most vulnerable workers, who are predominantly young and women? These workers were excluded from the JobKeeper program and now they are being excluded from the basic entitlements that other workers in this country get to enjoy.

Casual workers deserve better. They deserve the respect of this government. They deserve the respect of every senator in this place. This government has exposed one million workers to the risk of being sacked without recourse in the middle of Australia’s deepest recession, at a time when there are more than 100 people applying for every one job. This government, if it were fair dinkum, would be truly respecting our workers and supporting them. If this government truly respected workers as it claims, it would include them in the basic unfair dismissal protections. After all, the government claims that it’s working side by side with workers. Let’s do it. Let’s protect these workers. Let’s protect all workers in this country and make that contribution back to the Australian economy. After all, we all want to see our economy rebuild and rebound after what has been a pretty unbelievable 12 months. Yet, instead, casual workers will again be left behind by this coalition government.