Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (19 November) . . Page.. 4285 ..
MS DUNDAS (10.50): Employment is an issue that is consistently raised with me by the community. Security of employment and the struggle to achieve a work-life balance are two key problems. Only last month, my Senate colleague Senator Cherry called for a national inquiry to address the negative impact of the increase in casual and temporary employment. He noted that 60 per cent of jobs created in Australia in the last year were casual or temporary, bringing the total number of workers in casual employment to just over a quarter. Based on current trends, and unless something is done to reverse the decline in permanent positions, we will eventually see the majority of all workers in casual employment.
Although the category of casual employment was created to allow employers to deal with peaks and troughs in workload, the current average length of employment for casuals is four years. It is clear that many employers are engaging workers as casuals when they should be offering permanency as the employment type. High rates of casual employment are not the norm in the developed world. Even the United States has a casual employment rate just one-sixth of that in Australia. A work force dominated by casuals does not guarantee greater productivity. It just causes greater stress among employees, who have no certainty of work from one week to the next, even from one hour to the next. They have no access to sick pay or to annual leave to spend time with friends and family, and they seldom get access to paid training. The loading of 10 to 15 per cent that they get to compensate for this hardship goes nowhere near to making casual employment as attractive as permanent part-time or permanent full-time employment.
The ACTU Future of work report released in June this year showed that 68 per cent of casual workers want more reliable and predictable work hours. Although some people, such as students, can find casual employment that suits their needs, many other workers, particularly those with families, find the uncertainty of casual work very difficult both financially and in terms of planning to meet family commitments.
Mr Hargreaves adverted to another problem with insecure employment. If employees feel that their employment could be terminated at any time, they feel less confident about raising workplace safety risks. This is an unacceptable risk borne by society as a whole, and a strong reason to take action to reverse the trend.
The Minister for Industrial Relations has introduced a number of bills to regulate working conditions in the territory. Of course, the ACT has only residual responsibility for industrial relations matters, where there is no federal award or certified agreement covering a workplace. In theory at least, it is a small proportion of workers who are outside the federal system. However, in practice, in workplaces with no active unionism, if both employers and employees are unaware of the terms of an award or unaware that an award even applies, employees' rights can and are often breached. Employers are generally more aware of legislation than they are of AIRC instruments. This means that there is good reason for the ACT to continue to pass laws that establish minimum working conditions for employees here in the ACT.
I hope that this motion today brought forward by Mr Hargreaves foreshadows government legislation on the subject of casual employment, though the actual wording