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Published: 19 June 2013
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Insecure work and you

Part 1: Casuals do have WorkCover rights

The insecurity and uncertainty that is at the heart of casual and labour hire work practices is eroding health and safety standards in Australian workplaces.

Employers tout these practices as aiding flexibility and productivity. The problem with much of this flexibility is that it runs all one way - the way of employers. They can pick and choose when and how often their staff are deployed. If at all.

Most workers who have to put up with insecure work dislike it and would readily convert to permanency if given the chance.*

One of the least discussed aspects of casual and labour hire practices is the knock on effect they have on injury in the workplace. For all the official government hype about health and safety, it is the growing casualisation of Australian workplaces that most threatens safe work practices.

When work is by nature temporary and insecure, you have to think twice before complaining about that faulty equipment, or about the lack of any safety rules. If you are unfortunate to have been injured, you may even be reluctant to have the matter reported to WorkCover for fear of being seen as a troublemaker and shown the door.

Yet, leaving an injury unreported or failing to lodge a proper claim to help with your rehab is critical to obtaining proper health care and to protecting your livelihood. You do have rights and you are protected, at least in law, in exercising them.

I'm casual or labour hire. So what are my rights?

First, you are entitled to a safe workplace and to WorkCover benefits and protection, casual or not.

If you are injured, you must follow these steps:

1. Seek medical attention and notify your doctor that you have been injured at work. Not your employer's doctor, yours.

2. Report your injury to your employer by completing an entry in your employers injury book both at your host employer and your agency.

3. Notify your union delegate, if you have one, and your OH&S rep.

4. If more serious, make sure you lodge a WorkCover claim form.

If your supervisor or boss tries to intimidate you into not recording the incident or lodging a claim, this is illegal and your employer can be prosecuted. No ifs or buts.

An injured worker should never fear putting in written notification for an injury at work.

The health and safety cards may be stacked against a casual and labour hire worker, but you can and should stand up for your rights. It's in your best interests, and those of your fellow workers, that you do so.

*According to a survey conducted by the National Union of Workers, 80% of NUW members who are casual and who work in industries such as warehousing, food processing, manufacturing and merchandising, would leap at having the chance of converting their jobs to permanent.

Next week in Part 2: Calculating your WorkCover benefits as a casual