SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
ABC REGIONAL QLD DRIVE WITH ADAM STEPHEN
THURSDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Casualisation crisis across regional Qld; Morrison Government spending taxpayers’ funds to back casualisation in the High Court; Labor’s Same Job, Same Pay policy.
ADAM STEPHEN, HOST: Murray Watt is with us this afternoon on ABC radio across regional Queensland. He's talking to us here in his role as Shadow Minister for (Queensland) Resources. Senator Watt thanks for joining us.
MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: G’day Adam, good to talk to you.
STEPHEN: Could you just explain the role that the Federal Government had in this case, which was essentially a casual mine worker taking his employer to court, arguing that because he'd been working for so many years for the business, even though it wasn't in a full time kind of role, that he was, or should have been entitled to some of the same entitlements as full time employees.
WATT: That's right Adam, this case went all the way to the High Court. And it was the last in a series of cases that unions have been fighting for casual workers or so called casual workers over quite a period of time. It's something that we've seen particularly in the mining industry in Queensland, but it's now spreading to all sorts of other industries, manufacturing, healthcare, security guards, cleaning, we really are seeing a casualisation crisis across regional Queensland. There are so many people who are now working as casuals or labour hire, or some kind of other insecure form of work. And what this case basically involved was unions representing a coal miner, who was being called a casual and employed as a casual by a labour hire firm, even though he was doing the same rosters week after week, month after month, year after year. And really any objective observer who looks at that kind of an employee, who's doing the same rosters over and over again, they're a permanent employee, and they're entitled, or they should be entitled to the job security, the leave benefits, the pay that a permanent worker gets. And instead, this poor bugger was getting paid as a casual and losing all of those benefits.
STEPHEN: Well generally if you’re paid as a casual, you’re paid a loading. So if you were paid as a casual and you work in a pub, for instance, you can often be earning up to 25 percent more than someone that's on the books full time. And do we know what the situation was here? Because when the Federal Government did intervene, one of the reasons given was that they didn't really feel that it was fair for people who were earning a loading to then actually go and ask for holiday pay or other entitlements as well.
WATT: Yeah, well, this is one of the things that a lot of people haven't actually heard, Adam, is that in a lot of industries these days, you find that casuals and labour hire workers are actually getting paid less than the permanent workers even after you include the casual loading that they received. And that's, of course, in addition to the fact that they don't get the job security, the sick leave and the annual leave that permanent employees get as well. So it is the case that in some industries, like hospitality, like what you're talking about, casuals get a casual loading, and that compensates them for losing some of those benefits of permanency. But what we're finding, particularly in mining, but in a whole range of other industries as well, is that employers and labour hire firms are manipulating old awards to make sure that people are being paid less than the permanent workers that they work alongside, as well as missing out on all of those benefits. You're right, the Federal Government did decide to intervene on the side of the labour hire firms, which is a really disappointing thing to see from our Federal Government. And as you said in the introduction, they then went and billed taxpayers for the privilege of backing their casualisation agenda. So I think it's a pretty clear, clear demonstration that the Morrison Government just isn't on the side of the average worker, and they're prepared to pay taxpayers’ money to back labour hire firms against them.
STEPHEN: When the Commonwealth did become a party to the test case, they did so, they said, on behalf of millions of small businesses that they were worried could be ruined if this case actually was successful in the High Court and casuals all over the country then could have had a case to go to their employer and say, well I've been on your books for a long time now. I'm actually going to hit you up for back pay and annual leave, despite the fact on pay more.
WATT: That was certainly the argument that the Federal Government made. But anyone who has a look at the facts of this case knows that that's just completely untrue. The hospitality example that you were giving before of a casual or a retail casual, very often what will happen there is that someone won't work the same roster year on year. You'll work 10 hours one week, you'll work 20 hours next, and you certainly won't be doing exactly the same roster for eight years in a row. And that's what we've seen in the mining industry. So this was really a test case about what should be happening in an industry where people are working the same rosters for year on year on year. I have literally met coal miners in Central Queensland who would have done the same roster week in week out for eight years. They're not casual employees, you can't pretend that they are. So the Federal Government's argument was wrong, it was only going to be about casuals who work permanent shifts, permanent rosters. And my view, and I think most Australians’ view, is that those people are permanent workers.
STEPHEN: You’re hearing from Queensland Senator Murray Watt, he is the opposition spokesperson for (Queensland) resources. This was something of a landmark ruling. And in the end, it went against the worker and of course against anyone that's in a similar situation to the worker. So as a result of that, what are the consequences?
WATT: Yeah, well, unfortunately, the courts found that under the current Australian law, employers can get away with this and can pay people who are really permanent workers as casuals. And that's why Labor has said that if we win the election, we will change the law to give these sorts of workers greater protection. Basically, what we've said is that we would change the definition of casual employment in the industrial relations legislation to make sure that it actually reflects what it's always been understood to mean. You know, we understand that there are many sectors of the, of the economy where casual work is a is a normal thing. I've certainly worked as a casual myself in hospitality and retail, in my younger years, and there's going to be a place for that. But it shouldn't be abused by employers who actually engage people on the same conditions, the same working rosters year after year. And that's what we want to fix. The other part of our policy is really simple. It's called same job, same pay. What we're basically saying is that if you're a casual or a labour hire worker, and you're working exactly the same kind of shifts as the permanent worker next to you, you should be getting at least the same pay as that permanent worker. What we've got to do is remove that financial incentive for some employers who want to do the wrong thing by paying people less by employing them as a casual labour hire. If you can put them on the same footing as a permanent worker, than we think people will be more often employed as permanents. That's obviously a good thing for those workers. But it's really important for regional economies as well. If you've got people who are employed as casuals or labour hire or other insecure work, they're unable to get a home loan, in many cases, they can't get car loans. They're too scared to buy things in local shops and businesses. This would be a really positive move for regional economies, as well as being good for regional families.
STEPHEN: Yeah but same job, same pay, though, and they're a casual would you then say that they should be entitled to things like annual leave?
WATT: No, well, what we're saying is that you've got to receive at least the same pay as the permanent worker that you're working alongside. So if you have got casual workers who are getting paid a loading and ending up getting a better hourly rate than a permanent worker, because they don't get those other benefits, then that's fine. But the problem with what we've got at the moment is we're seeing so many instances where casuals or labour hire people are getting paid less than the permanent worker, and they're also missing out on those other benefits of permanent work. They're the people who we really need to look after, and make sure that they're getting paid fairly.
STEPHEN: You're hoping to hear more stories from people that are impacted like this, and as such, are hosting something of a virtual regional Queensland insecure jobs forum tonight talking about casualisation. Are people listening to this able to be involved?
WATT: Absolutely, it's open to anyone from the public. And they can do it from the privacy of their own lounge room, or they can pull over on the side of the road and get on their phone and have a look at it as well. It's going to be online, it's on zoom for anyone who wants to register. And if people would like to go to my Facebook page, that's Murray Watt - Labor Senator for Queensland to give it a plug! You can get all the details about how to register there. We're really keen to hear people's stories about how insecure work is affecting them. We're obviously keen to explain what our policies are, but if we can keep making any improvements to those policies, then we'll certainly do that.
STEPHEN: Thank you very much for the update. Murray Watt, good to have you on the program.
WATT: Good on you Adam. Thanks for the chat.