28 Dec 2017

JOURNALIST: Shadow Minister Brendan O’Connor joins us now from Melbourne. Before we get into the nitty gritty of what the ACTU is demanding, they say they are acting against the rise in casual employment, could you just explain to us what is behind this rise?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS:  Well it’s a number of things. There’s no doubt that over the last 20 years there has been an increased proportion of Australia’s labour market that are precariously employed. You see the use of labour hire, the use of independent contracting, indeed the use of casuals has got to a point where people are now working as their primary job in casual work, which deprives them of any paid holidays and often deprives them of the ability to get a car loan or a home loan because they don’t have a guaranteed minimum hours. So there is no doubt concern.
One of the reasons why wage growth is at its lowest in 20 years is because we are seeing people increasingly in casual work, not in a position to seek a better wage increase.
JOURNALIST: It certainly is an untenable position for many people who are casuals, and let’s actually look at what the unions are looking at. They are expecting Labor to look at two changes to the Fair Work Act. The first one - a new and proper definition of casual work. What do you make of that? What sort of a definition would you like to see?
O’CONNOR: Can I say federal Labor has already committed to looking at the definition of casual. In fact before the last election we said we needed an objective test in order to ensure the use of casualiasdation was used for the purposes it was originally intended - that is seasonal work, replacing permanent work. 
Too often now we see people working as their main job in what employers are deeming to be casual even when they work for years on end. For that reason Labor is committed to examining this, certainly well before the ACTU raised it recently, and we will sit down with employers, employer groups and unions and work through this. But something has to be done. Too many people now don’t get holiday pay after a years work. Have no guaranteed minimum hours and can’t get a house loan, cannot get a car loan because they have not got any guaranteed work.
JOURNALIST: Now the second issue that the ACTU are talking about is the option for casual workers to convert to permanent positions after six months of permanent work with an employer. Is this something that you would support?
O’CONNOR: Look, I think we need to look at conversion and there is a capacity for us to do that. We will look at the timeline and will sit down with employers and unions to discuss that but I do believe that often some employers are their own worst enemy. They employ hundreds of casuals and then they wonder why the turnover in their workplace or business is so high. One of the reasons why turnover happens so quickly is because people cannot live indefinitely on work that is so precarious. They have no guaranteed minimum hours and they have no capacity to get decent wage increases. That’s why wages are falling in this country.
JOURNALIST: Well before you blame the bosses and the employers the Australian Industry Group basically said that the Fair Work Act was implemented by the former Labor Government, so a lot of casual workers really have the Labor Party to blame for the situation they are in?
O’CONNOR: As I’ve said before, you can always re-examine what you did and put in place when last in Government. As I’ve already said in a number of key speeches this year, we need to make sure that we have a set of industrial relations laws that can cater for the fastest change in the nature of the labour market we have ever seen. Because of technological disruption, because of offshoring, we are seeing massive change in the labour market so we need to attend to the laws to keep up with the change. One of the things we need to do is stop the unnecessary application of a very broad definition of casual because too many people are being employed under that definition for years on end. That is not acceptable and that is why we made a commitment before the last election to redefine casual. We will engage with stakeholders, but let there be no mistake, Labor is committed to ensuring that the definition of casualisation is used for the purposes it was originally intended. We will sit down with stakeholders. Of course, the Turnbull Government has no interest in this, they would like to see an easy to hire, easy to fire society. We don’t ascribe to that view.
JOURNALIST: Right, Shadow Minister we are going to have to leave it there, we are short of time. Thank you.
O’CONNOR: Thank you.  

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