SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Federal Court ruling on casual workers, international university students.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me live now, my first guest in the program, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Thanks very much for your time. Why don’t we begin with quite an interesting court decision on casual workers. It's getting a lot of attention. This is allowing those with regular ongoing shifts who get this load of 25 percent, so an extra 25 percent on their salaries, to also get holiday pay and sick pay. That doesn't seem logical if they're getting both of these things.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: First thing to say about the case is the decision was specific to this particular individual. He had been working for four years consistently for the one employer. And in many respects, nothing remarkable about a court deciding that somebody who has been working consistently, continuously, for four years is not casual. The thing that seems to have caused a bit of consternation is whether the employer can use the penalty rates that have been paid, the casual loadings that have been paid to this guy over the four years to offset the liabilities that the employer has for annual leave and the rest of it. I guess the point that we're making is; if an employer has done the wrong thing and denied an employee their rights to annual leave, to sick leave and to the security of full-time employment, then they should not be benefited for that, they should not benefit out of that. And I think it does, Tom, shine a light on a big problem that we've got with casual and insecure employment in this country. You know over a million workers, sorry one in four Australian workers, are on some form of insecure employment arrangement. They have been, if you like, the shock absorbers in the economic downturn. They're the ones with the least protections and I think we need a thorough going look at this, we've got far too much reliance on casual employment which has an enormous impact on everything in their lives.
CONNELL: But the person in this situation, shouldn't it be whether or not they should have the option and most of the time people do have the option, these were changes that have been brought in not so long ago, you have the option to request to become full-time rather than remain casual, get 25 percent and holiday and sick leave. I mean that's not going to be sustainable for an employer, is it?
JONES: Yeah presumably in this case. I've only read part of the of the federal court decision, but this case those matters were ventilated and it was quite clear that it was the employee who had been wronged in this these circumstances. I think in the overwhelming number of circumstances employees don't feel like they have the right to ask for permanent employment in those sort of circumstances and I think everyone now agrees.
CONNELL: Is that what they should have, rather than this sort of what seems to be a curious decision around giving them both, that the better thing to give them would be certainty because even if you get, you know, both the 25% and the holiday and sick leave and the current climate, where we might be having very high unemployment in the future years and a slow and disjointed recovery, if you're out of a job, you're out of a job, the conditions don't really matter.
JONES: I think there's two things that need to be looked at here. And if you like separated, the first thing is how do we do all this going forward and that is to ensure that employees who are really not casuals are converted where it is their choice to be converted to full-time employment so that they have the benefits of sick leave, of annual leave, of long service leave and all of that, they're able to go to the bank and get a loan, all of that sort of stuff which comes with having more secure employment. So that needs to be done going forward. There's a separate job at work about how you clean up the mess going backwards and how you deal with all of those workers who have been long-term, effectively de facto, permanent workers. How do we clean up that backlog, Tom? Some of them will have been getting penalties and casual loading, some of them won't. We know that for a fact that there is a significant issue with underpayment or non-payment of employees in these precarious employment. What we're saying is we shouldn't start with a presumption, as the employee loses in those circumstances. And I think that is what the court has decided in these situations, as well.
CONNELL: But the you'd understand, in the current economic climate if this were to be some sort of impetus for this to be right across the economy for a whole host of casuals in this particular position, because there could be quite a few, that it's not going to be sustainable for a lot of employers particularly right now.
JONES: I think a point needs to be made that the findings in this case what particular to the facts of this case and the court decided in this case that the employer couldn't offset casual loadings because of the facts of this particular case. I think we should be using this as an opportunity, Tom, to ensure that we can clean up the big mess that we have with secure employment in this country. Obviously, you know, we’ve some big challenges, far bigger challenges, that we're going to deal with right now and I think the real big challenges that we've got to deal with right now is ensuring that those seven and a half million Australians that are on one form of government income support or another, are able to find a pathway for them to be back into normalised work.
CONNELL: Universities are hatching a plan at the moment to be able to bring in international students, possibly even via skipping quarantine, depending on how it works out. This is going to be a tricky one, isn't it? Do you think the community has enough support for this right now? That they're convinced this won't be a risk to Australia given how much better we are in the health position right now.
JONES: I represent a university town, Tom. The University of Wollongong has a significant group of overseas students here. They benefit the university. They benefit the local region. We do want to see them coming back to Wollongong, to other universities around the country but no sooner than it's safe for them to do so and not without the proper protections. I do know that we still have people who have quarantine arrangements being put in place at the moment, they appear to be working. If we can put in place something which transfers those existing arrangements over to these foreign students to ensure they come and learn here, have the cultural and economic exchanges that brings with it while ensuring that we leave our community safe than I think we should be doing it.
CONNELL: That would mean some sort of quarantine, even if the universities do it rather than hotels, when you arrived. Do you think we need some sort of quarantine if there's no vaccine?
JONES: We need the state governments to be working, because state governments are the ones who are responsible for putting in place these quarantine arrangements under the existing state/federal arrangements, they need to be working with the university sector and they need to be ensuring that if an arrangement is put in place, which are separate from the normal arrangement, that it makes all the requisite health standards.
CONNELL: Alright, Stephen Jones. Thanks for your time today.
JONES: Good to be with you.