PVCA warns against casuals ambiguity

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The PVCA says print business owners need to have the status of their permanent and casual staff completely crystal clear, to avoid any future problems with Labor's so-called double-dipping proposal which was foiled in the Senate this week.

Vitally important: Andrew Macaulay
Vitally important: Andrew Macaulay

Welcoming the Senate vote which went against the proposal 33 votes to 29, Andrew Macaulay, CEO of the PVCA, told Print21 that employers should do their best to make it clear whether employees are permanent or casual, in order to minimise any potential risk.

“We’ve provided industrial advice to the members about mitigating this risk through their employment structures, and obviously the most fundamental way is to ensure that their employment relationships are structured to have either irrefutably permanent or irrefutably casual employees.

“If an employer has any concern whatsoever, they should call us – there’s no charge for that, it’s part of the membership benefit. That’s why we’re here,” he said.

Casuals: nervous time for print business owners who may have to pay back entitlements
Casuals: print business owners spared from paying back entitlements

The disallowance motion, which aimed to overturn a regulation allowing employers to offset already-paid loadings against entitlements ordered to be paid to workers who say they were misclassified as casuals, was introduced to the Senate on Monday in a move that industry groups warned could cost employers an estimated total of $8bn in back pay.

The proposal was supported by Labor, the Greens, and Jacqui Lambie, with the Centre Alliance, Cory Bernardi, and One Nation siding with the Coalition against it.

Macaulay welcomed the Senate decision as common sense, and a win for small to medium enterprises.

“The Senate has chosen to reject the move from Labor Senator Don Farrell to try to overturn the regulation which protects small and family businesses from up to $8bn in double dipping holiday pay claims.

“On behalf of thousands of small printing, packaging and visual communication businesses across the country, PVCA thanks the Coalition and the Crossbench for their sensible and practical approach in choosing to protect this vital law,” he said.

According to Macaulay, the disallowance motion exposed employers to what he called a reckless move that caused unnecessary distress and uncertainty.

“It was particularly disappointing, and hopefully a one-off, to see any party dismiss offhand the genuine concerns of the printing community, of which the vast majority are small and family owned businesses.

“PVCA will continue to work with all sides of politics to ensure that policies, laws and regulations, reflect the realities of running a printing business in Australia,” he said.

The regulation came about following last year’s Skene decision by the full Federal Court, which held that WorkPac had to pay truck driver Paul Skene annual leave and other permanent entitlements due to his regular and predictable shifts.

Senator Don Farrell
Chronic underpayment: Senator Don Farrell

Introducing the motion, Senator Farrell said that the Skene decision had exposed claims that employees were double-dipping as fallacious, given that Skene was found not to be a casual and had in fact been paid 29.4 per cent less than equivalent full-time employees even with the casual loading he received.

“The fact is, as the Federal Court found, any double dipping here has been performed by the employer because they’ve taken advantage of the insecurity of casual work while still getting permanent hours out of their workforce for less cost.

“We often see examples of people working side by side doing the same job with the same hours, but one is being paid as a casual on less money with no entitlements and the other as a permanent employee with full entitlements. Casual work is meant to be just that – casual. And using casual contracts for jobs that are, in fact, permanent is an abuse,” said Farrell.

According to Farrell, the ruling also highlighted wage stagnation and what he described as chronic underpayment of workers in industries dominated by large corporations.

“Despite the hysteria of the employer groups who have criticised moves to disallow this regulation, this Court ruling does not mean all casual employees on set rosters are equivalent to permanent employees.

“But what has been highlighted is that many working Australians are trapped in the same permanent casualisation trap as Mr Skene, and those workers deserve a real government response rather than this politically expedient regulation,” he said.

The PVCA says the regulation gives flexibility to employees who choose to be casual, but work close to full-time hours for family or other reasons.

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