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Published: 03 July 2013
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Insecure work and you

Part 3: Casual workers do have rights

In Part 2 of this series - Calculating your WorkCover benefits as a casual - we discussed some basic guidelines for calculating benefits and discussed some circumstances that may affect the calculation.

More and more workers are finding themselves in casual employment or working through labour hire agencies. Often this is not through choice, but because employers will often refuse to hire workers on any other basis. “Hire casual labour or don’t hire at all” is the current mantra of many Australian businesses.

According to the National Union of Workers, Australia has more people working in temporary work, as a percentage of the workforce, than any other developed nation. This situation almost always works in favour of the employer rather than the worker, whose labour can be turned on and off almost at will.

While this work insecurity is a deep-seated problem within our community, legal safeguards offer casual employees some level of guaranteed protection and a minimum set of conditions. If you are a casual worker, you almost always wish to be made permanent. Where you can’t, the best option you can fall back on is to arm yourself with a little knowledge.

I’ve only been working at this place for a few months. What rights do I have?

You have quite a few rights, in fact.

By law, you cannot be asked to work on a rate that is less than the minimum wage, or the pay rate specified by an award or enterprise agreement if one applies to your employment. You should receive a "loading" on top of your hourly rate, which is typically around 25%, because you are not entitled to all the benefits of permanent employment such as annual leave and sick leave.

You are entitled to two days of unpaid carer's leave and two days of unpaid compassionate leave, public holidays (unless your employer has a good reason for asking you to work on a public holiday), and community service leave.

You should receive superannuation contributions from your employer if you are over 18 years of age and earn more than $450 per month or if you are under 18 years of age and work more than 30 hours per week.

If you have been working for more than 6 months, you may have unfair dismissal rights if you are sacked. For those who work for a small business, you need to have 12 months' service.

I’ve been with this employer for more than a year. Does this affect my rights?

Yes. They are more extensive.

Once you’ve been with an organisation for more than 12 months, you may request flexible working arrangements and take unpaid parental leave. You can apply for paid parental leave under the government paid parental leave scheme. You may also be entitled to long service leave.

These entitlements are basic and are often improved on by awards and enterprise agreements that are common in union sites. Such extra protections often cover overtime and penalty rates, special allowances, minimum shifts, and very importantly, the right to have your job converted to full-time or part-time.

Of course, there are many casual workers who are not enjoying these basic rights and entitlements. Unfortunately, too many companies exploit their staff, either through ignorance, or simply because they can get away with it.

It is up to you to make sure you get a fair deal. If you are in any doubt about your rights, you should ask your union rep for help, you can report your boss to the Fair Work Ombudsman, or ask an employment law firm for advice.

Next week in Part 4: Labour hire workers do have rights

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