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Issue #1785      July 12, 2017

Casuals break through

A Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision will allow casual workers who can prove they have worked regular hours for a year to request conversion to permanent employment. It will apply to 85 of 120 modern awards.

Thousands of casual workers may be positively affected by this decision which is an outcome of the ACTU common claim on casual and part-time employment, which formed part of the four yearly review of modern awards.

The ACTU claim, though, was for a six month qualifying period, for four hour minimum shifts and for a deeming (automatic conversion) clause in awards, which already have conversion provisions. The FWC did not agree to these claims.

The Higher Education (General Staff) Award 2010 is in this latter category.

The National Tertiary Education Union was party to the case for the very purpose of advocating for automatic conversion after a qualifying period. The NTEU argued that whilst conversion clauses are included in most enterprise agreements, university managements regularly rejected applications and staff are deterred from pursuing applications.

The FWC unfortunately, but not surprisingly, accepted the university management argument that the system worked and did not require the force of a change to the award. This occurred despite the universities’ evidence showing that they simply do not know where or how their casual staff are employed.

In the current university environment of rapidly rising insecure work at the expense of ongoing positions, casual staff are understandably fearful of drawing attention to themselves by even inquiring about conversion despite many being regularly employed for long periods.

However, the FWC decision is a fillip in that it does argue that a casual conversion clause is a safeguard against unfair exploitation – a first for most Australian casual workers. The decision provides us with the opportunity to press this matter with university managements and support NTEU members in seeking conversion through enterprise agreements.

Next article – Restricting citizenship

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