Russell Zimmerman, the Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association, talks about the Fair Work Commission ruling that grants casual workers the right to become permanent employees after 12 months
Introduction: Casuals have the right to become permanent employees
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Money News. I’ll tell you what, that conversation about young people who are training, and the way in which it works, really got a lot of response. What people don’t realize is we’re importing a huge amount of unskilled labor through student visas. I work in construction, my wife works in hospitality.
There’s lots of Brazilian, Nepalese doing educational courses. They have no intention of using, just getting a chance to work and live in Australia is enough for them. Plus they’ve also got the chance of getting sponsored and that, of course, is a pathway to a residency for them. There’s a real issue here, and maybe student visas are also something that needs to be looked at and cracked down upon. Well, there’s a landmark ruling today from the Fair Work Commission. What it’s done is granted millions of casual workers, rights to convert to a permanent employee if they work regular hours over a 12-month period.
This could have impacts on say for example banking, on the retail industry, agriculture, aged care, restaurants, and range of others. The Australian Retailers Association has come out and slammed the decision by Fair Work Commission and basically said, “This is not the way the real world operates.” Let’s go to Russell Zimmerman who is the chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association. Russell as always, thanks for your time.
Interview: Russell Zimmerman, Australian Retailers Association
Russell Zimmerman: Thank you, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Look, at some point, if a person’s a casual, they surely deserve the rights, the protection of becoming a full-time employee.
Russell Zimmerman: Ross, I think if you read my press release, it does say that we really do understand the reason for this decision. The problem about the decision isn’t the fact that they want to move casuals to part-timers. The problem about part-timers is that there is variable in flexibility. If you’re running a part-time in the retail industry, you must by law give seven days change of notice in writing on your roster.
Now, let’s just assume we’ve got a retailer and he’s got a store and it gets a really busy afternoon, he’s got a part-timer. He said to the part-timer, “I want you in from 9:00 until 3:00.” At three o’clock, the store is full of people. He’s got to make one of two options, he either sends that part-timer off because the part-timer was on until three o’clock and if he keeps the part-timer beyond three o’clock, immediately it goes into double time, into overtime rates.
Now, that is unsustainable. We could actually live quite comfortably if the decision had been made to allow people to have part-time work, retailers would then offer a minimum number of hours. Then on top of that, if you wanted that person to work longer hours just like you do with a casual, you would say to them, “Can you work the extra hour or extra two hours today?” Then if they did work you would pay the ordinary rates.
Let’s take another quick case you’ve got a retailer, they have an employee ring in sick. They have to call on a casual gentleman, that’s what they do. If you call that part-timer in, because the part-timer wasn’t working and because you didn’t have that person in on non-rostered hours, you immediately pay overtime.
Ross Greenwood: In this regard, a young person quite clearly, and I do understand about the flexibility but it’s one of the things that’s occurred in our workforce, the so-called casualization of the workforce. The question now is whether a person was a casual worker actually has significant enough protections, and rights from employers and not all of them, but some will certainly seek to exploit the situation.
Russell Zimmerman: Well, Ross you’re not exploiting somebody if you’re using them as a casual and you’re using them quickly. The term of a casual is to offer them hours that they will determine beforehand, generally a week beforehand if you can, but it’s also the person you ring up when your manager’s sick or when your second-in-charge is sick and you say to them, “Can you come in?” They’ve got a right to say yes or no.
Now, if you turn all those people that work as casuals in the industry into part-timers, you’ve got to get that roster out seven days beforehand, and then you have to make a change to that roster because the manager comes to you and says, “Look, I’m sorry. I got to take my mother to the doctor tomorrow. Can I do that tomorrow, and I’ll have the next day off, and work the next day which is my day off.” The moment you get back to your casuals, you say, “Will you work?” Casuals know that. That’s what casualization is about.
What the Fair Works handed down now, it means that there is no flexibility. Now, I don’t approve again, we’re happy about them being part-timers to convince part-timers, but give us some flexibility, so that we can change the rosters a little bit around, but give them– If we say to them, “As a part-timer, you’ll get a minimum of 15-hours a week”, you give them that but then you ride them up beyond that when you have to, when you’ve got a shortage or you’ve got a problem and you need an extra hand.
Ross Greenwood: There’s a second aspect of this that I can say, and that is if a person has worked casually for an employer for getting on 11 months and two weeks, and given the fact these rules kick in after 12 months. It is likely that person is also going to lose their job, and they’ll have to go out and find another job after 11 months and two weeks, because the employer will not risk holding that person for 12 months for fear that they might have to put them on a more permanent employment arrangement, which as you point out will cost more and brings more red tape with it.
Russell Zimmerman: Ross, look I hear what you’re saying. Retailers don’t want to do that though and that will affect to type that person off their books. Put somebody else on, train that person. You don’t spend the best part of three to six months getting them just up to speed to understand your business. Why would you want to get rid of somebody who you’ve employed for a period of 11 months and two weeks in your terms? Why would you then want to get rid of them to put somebody else on to train them all up, to understand all the systems you used, to understand your tool, to understand how you replenish your shelves, to understand the stock or why you ran your stock, whatever it might be, you spend three to six months doing that?
Ross Greenwood: I’ll tell you what, it’s a really good subject, there’s no doubt. That Fair Work Commission decision is going to have wide ramifications if it does become law. Russell Zimmerman, he’s a Chief Executive of the Australian Retailers Association in here and sees the problem. If you’re casual, I wonder what your view is about that. 131-873 is the number. Russell, we appreciate your time.
Russell Zimmerman: Thanks very much Ross. It’s always a pleasure.