The Federal Attorney General has recently established five national IR Working Groups, comprising employer and employee representatives, with the goal of improving the effective operation of the employment landscape as Australia navigates its way out of the biggest economic downturns in most of our lifetimes.  The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA) has been invited to nominate representatives to sit on three of these Working Groups and ACAPMA’s CEO Mark McKenzie is the COSBOA representative on the Casuals Working Group. This representation provides an opportunity for business and industry, including organisations within the fuel industry, to provide input at the highest level of government in respect of the current uncertainty surrounding the employment of casuals – uncertainty that has been created by recent federal court rulings on leave entitlements of casual employees. Accordingly, ACAPMA is seeking to better understand member experiences with casual employment to ensure that our positions are truly representative and informed by fact. You can help by completing a 1 minute survey.

The Attorney General has established a series of IR Working Groups in recent weeks to examine opportunities to make the Australian Industrial Relations system more effective for employers and employees alike, as the Australian Government seeks to lead the national economy out of the COVID 19 economic downturn. These Working Groups are chaired by the Federal Attorney General and have been designed to be small in terms of participant numbers, with places allocated by invitation only.  Each working group will meet on a fortnightly basis over the next 4 months to provide input to government in advance of possible changes to IR Legislation to be passed by the Australian Parliament by years end.

Further information on the scope, operation and membership of these IR Working Groups can be found at https://www.attorneygeneral.gov.au/media/media-releases/memberships-ir-working-groups-announced-11-june-2020

The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) has been given a place at three of these IR Working Groups (i.e. Award Simplification, Compliance and Enforcement and Casual & Fixed Term Employees) with other organisations representing business and industry in the areas of Enterprise Agreement Making and Greenfields Agreements for new enterprises. ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie will be the COSBOA representative on the Casual and Fixed Term Employees Working Group.

The complexity of the employment landscape in Australia is compounded when businesses look to casual employment.  In the fuel industry there are definitions in the Awards of a casual employee, and provisions for employees who are ‘regular casuals’ to elect to remain regular casuals, receiving a higher hourly rate to compensate them for the lack of paid leave and the precarity of their employment.  However, there is no formal definition of a casual employee in the legislation, which leads to the absurd situation where an employee could legitimately be a casual according to the Award and a permanent employee according to the legislation, with all of the paid leave entitlements that come with that.  This dichotomy, along with recent cases adding to the confusion, is driving uncertainty for businesses and employees.

In addition to the uncertainty caused by recent cases and a lack of legal definition of a casual, businesses are also facing broad claims that the casualisation of the workforce is indicative of a push from selfish employers to cheat employees.  While it may be true that there are some for who such a statement may be accurate, what is understood based on industry knowledge is that for many relationships it is the employee that is making the choice to remain casual, and that choice is an informed and intelligent one, particularly given the long history of the Casual Conversion Clauses in the fuel industry Awards.  The argument that the business is forcing casualisation in all instances, and that casualisation itself is bad is one that needs examining.

“One area that is of pressing concern in the design of employment mixes within businesses is the flexibility, particularly in a retail setting, that is achievable within the context of the Award.  The fuel retail industry is plagued by harrowing complexity when it comes to permanent part time staff and the ability to effectively manage retail rosters in a 24 hour business.  What we hear from industry is that the Award itself is getting in the way of flexibility that is needed to run a retail business, and that the least complicated and most flexible option is casual staff, and even this is fraught” explained Mark McKenzie, CEO of ACAPMA.

This call for the employment system to foster and promote, not hinder, flexibility is not new, and in the face of the latest jobless figures the Prime Minister has acknowledged that businesses need clarity and flexibility if they are to weather the storm of COVID-19 and provide stimulus and employment for Australians;

“While devastated by the number, I’m sadly not surprised and we will have to brace ourselves, I suspect for further news going forward. I mentioned before the importance of the industrial relations arrangements that sit around JobKeeper. Now, businesses are going to have some difficult decisions. And they are going to need flexibility. And that means ensuring that more people can stay in jobs and if we have rigid systems then that could see people needlessly losing their jobs. We are not in usual times. We are not in usual economic circumstances.

“And as a result, we need to have arrangements, both in the income supports that the government provides but also the arrangements that are available in workplaces that can maximise the number of people that we can keep in real jobs going forward.  Where people are actually able to do work and generate income for the businesses by the work they do.  That is effectively the issue that not only the government needs to wrestle with but employers and unions and employees need to wrestle with and there needs to be more coming together to ensure we can have arrangements that mean more people can stay in their jobs, not just because of JobKeeper, but because there is an actual job and because there is the flexibility to enable people to remain in work.

“I don’t want to see people needlessly lose work as a result of those arrangements and that is why I am asking, and the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Attorney, is also asking and working to try to get the right set of arrangements that can keep more people in jobs.”

Information to effect change

ACAPMA is seeking some simple information from the industry to inform its role in these landmark Roundtables and the flexible and responsible solutions they are seeking.  Below is a link to a simple survey that seeks to understand the level of casual employment within the industry, as well as to give the industry an opportunity to explain the realities that motivate the decisions to engage casuals, the concerns about casual employment that are being felt, and the barriers to reducing casualisation in the industry. 

This survey takes less than a minute to complete and will provide valuable insight to the discussions, please take a moment to complete it for ACAPMA.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfB5zzc3328JTOFC6csyQV8TeNLB1Wq_92R2AoXrcaEY_fPXA/viewform?usp=sf_link

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