Union threat to casual labour

WHILE still uncertain how the Australian Tax Office is going to face contractors that work through labour hire firms, the labour hire industry is facing another threat – this time from the unions.

A national campaign is brewing to stamp out business’ use of casual workers on a long-term basis.

About 25 per cent of Australia’s workforce is employed on a casual basis.

The Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union instigated industrial action that shut down Linencare Australia for some days because management refused to take on casual workers as permanent employees.

The dispute caused the suspension of elective surgery at Perth’s major teaching hospitals because Linencare is the major launderer of hospital linen.

The Industrial Relations Commission ordered Aussie Scrap Metals to re-employ six workers it stood down after they joined a union and ordered the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union to take down a picket line that had been there since the dispute began.

LHMU assistant secretary Sharon Jackson said the union’s action had been related to Enterprise Bargaining Agreement negotiations with Linencare management and not part of some national campaign.

However, Australian Council of Trade Unions spokesman George Wright said the union and its affiliates had made improving rights for casual workers a priority.

It is widely felt within the labour hire industry that the unions want to do away with labour hire firms.

Mr Wright said casual workers were treated unfairly because they had no access to the conditions many employees took for granted, such as sick pay and holiday pay.

“We’re not against casual employment but we do think it is a way for some employers to circumvent their responsibility to workers,” he said.

In the Federal arena, the ACTU is running a test case to win maternity leave rights for casual workers who have been in the same workplace for more than one year.

The Australian Metal Workers’ Union won penalty conditions for casual metal workers that improved their loading by 25 per cent and made it mandatory for them to be offered the choice of full-time employment if they were working at the same place for six months.

Combined Small Business Associations of WA president Oliver Moon said the ACTU was orchestrating a national campaign against business to bring control of employment back to the unions.

“You will find the LHMU, both here and nationally, will become more militant. It’s all a part of Federal Labor/ACTU policy,” Mr Moon said.

“Small businesses are going to be kicked in the guts by this.

“The unions are trying to free up what the previous government did to free up the labour market.

“We’re going back to the nasty 1980s where the unions will tell businesses what they can and can’t do.”

However, the labour hire industry is not taking attempts to stamp out casual workers lightly.

Recruitment and Consulting Services Association WA President Nick Iustini said the association was committed to supporting its members whenever it felt the employment services industry was being affected by an industrial issue.

“The RCSA represents more than 1,000 businesses and the industry as a whole is worth $7.8 billion,” Mr Iustini said.

“As Australia's largest employer, the recruitment industry is facing a challenge by unions who are presenting a case for treating employees in the same way, ignoring the different needs and responsibilities of full-time workers compared to ‘non-standard’ workers.

“The RCSA believes a flexible and mobile workforce must be acknowledged and encouraged in order for Australia to thrive and prosper in the increasingly competitive global markets.

“Casualisation is the way of the future and Australians are increasingly choosing greater flexibility in work arrangements, reflecting their needs and lifestyles.

“The industry will maintain a voice and standpoint regardless of which government is in power.”

Meanwhile, the labour hire industry waits for an Australian Tax Office ruling on how it will treat contractors that work through labour hire firms.

Under the new tax system, contractors working through labour hire firms risk failing the 80 per cent test because they draw all of their income through one source – the labour hire firm.

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