Australia has 2.2 million casual workers and its growing fast. One million of them have been casual for over a year. That’s a vast number of workers who, while making profits for their employer, never get a sickie, holidays, enjoy job security, and find it next to impossible to get a bank loan.
Most casuals are outside the trade union movement. Even when they are covered by an award and are in a union, the loading they get is nothing in comparison to the job insecurity and the resulting stress that long-term casual work entails.
Most casual workers are women. Despite decades of equal pay legislation, they face a working life of less pay than men, less security, and less chance of training. The debt burden on millions of working class families, and the rising cost of child care and basic services means that more and more women are forced into accepting casual jobs in order to pay the bills. No wonder many women workers hate Howard?s sanctimonious and hypocritical talk of familiy values.
Unite, the new Socialist Party-initiated campaign for casual workers, is fighting hard to get the issue of casualisation onto the political agenda. It is asking if this form of employment is the kind of legacy we want to leave for the next generation of workers.
Unite is campaigning to ban unpaid trial work, get all casuals entitled to be permanent after six months and a $20 an hour minimum wage. Unite is also campaigning to ensure that the minimum rights that casuals do have are actually policed. Thousands of employers do not pay their casual staff superannuation, loading, and worse. Because most casual workers are desperate for the work, health and safety standards and minimum rights are more often than not ignored by bosses.
Organisations like Job Watch and WageLine provide useful information but cannot police the law. WorkCare often give employers advance warning of visits! Under the direction of the Howard Government, departments like Workplace Relations have no interest in acting to stop exploitation. The Tax Department is only interested in their money and often pass on ‘illegal’ workers getting paid cash in hand to the infamous Department of Immigration and certain detention.
The trade union movement is struggling to organise the growing number of casuals and in areas like hospitality, unionisation rates are as low as 5%. Let’s force the issue of the rip-off casuals onto the political agenda – we want industrial and legislative action now so we leave a better legacy to the next generation than now exits.