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Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Page: 210


Ms O'DWYER (HigginsMinister for Women and Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations) (09:50): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Fair Work Amendment (Right to Casual Conversion) Bill 2019 amends the Fair Work Act 2009to insert into the National Employment Standards a new right for eligible employees to request to convert to full-time or part-time employment.

This means that, if they want to, all eligible employees will be able to ask their employer to move from casual employment to full-time or part-time employment.

This is necessary because there are currently a significant number of employees in the national system who do not have such a right. This bill will fill that gap.

It is only fair that a right to request casual conversion is extended to all eligible employees.

The new right in the bill is in line with a model casual conversion clause that was developed by the Fair Work Commission.

On 5 July 2017, the Fair Work Commission determined that a model casual conversion clause should be inserted into 85 modern awards that did not contain such a right. This took effect in 85 awards on 1 October last year.

The Fair Work Commission made this decision after considering the evidence provided by employee and employer representatives in extensive proceedings over a period of four years.

However, the Fair Work Commission's decision only affects employees whose terms and conditions of employment are set by one of those 85 awards.

Another 27 modern awards already contain casual conversion clauses, specifically tailored by the commission to respond to the needs of each of those particular industries.

For example, in the manufacturing and construction industries, the right to request casual conversion in the relevant modern awards has been a longstanding feature in those industries.

The government, with this bill, does not seek to disturb these arrangements.

However, it currently remains the case that a significant number of employees in the national system do not have access to a protected right to request to convert to full-time or part-time employment.

The government's bill will fill this gap and ensure that a right to request conversion will be available to:

employees who are covered by a modern award that does not contain a right to request casual conversion;

employees to whom an enterprise agreement applies and who are either covered by a modern award that does not contain a right to request conversion or not covered by a modern award at all; and

employees who are award and agreement free.

In this way, the bill will ensure that all employees in the Fair Work system will have access to a protected right to request casual conversion, irrespective of whether their terms and conditions are set by a modern award, an enterprise agreement or any other arrangement.

No-one falls through the cracks.

The bill will also have the effect of ensuring that employees to whom an enterprise agreement applies and who are covered by a modern award that contains a casual conversion clause will get the benefit of that award clause.

Enterprise agreements will not be able to trade away these casual conversion terms, which must be derived from an underlying modern award with such a term for that particular industry, or in other cases, where there is no underlying award with such a term, the new right in the National Employment Standards.

Importantly, this bill will not mandate that any particular employee will have to convert to full-time or part-time employment.

We know that casual employment is a genuine and fulfilling choice for many people. Working as a casual enables people to balance work with other priorities. This includes allowing flexibility for those with caring responsibilities for children, parents or those with disabilities, helping mature-age people to stay in work while transitioning to retirement, and enabling students to have a job while studying.

In this country, casual employees are entitled to a higher hourly pay rate than equivalent full-time or part-time employees in place of annual leave and other entitlements. They usually get a 25 per cent loading.

Casual employment is also important for employers, particularly small business. They need flexibility to manage their workforce to better compete in the market and manage peaks, troughs, and seasonality in their business. For example, they may need flexibility to put on extra staff during busy times, such as holiday periods or at harvest time.

Casual work is often temporary and can be a stepping stone to other jobs. Almost three-quarters of workers who enter casual work leave within two years. And over half move to full- or part-time jobs.

As noted in the Fair Work Commission's decision, the needs of employers and employees can change over time. It is necessary for casual employees who have worked regular hours over extended periods to have a pathway to convert to full-time or part-time employment.

The bill is in line with the Fair Work Commission's model casual conversion clause to the greatest extent possible.

The bill will provide eligible employees who have worked a regular pattern of hours for the previous 12 months with the right to request that their employment be converted to full-time or part-time employment, under certain circumstances.

Employers will only be able to refuse a request from an eligible employee on known or foreseeable reasonable grounds.

This bill provides all employees in the national system with access to a dispute resolution mechanism to resolve any disputes that may arise between the employee and their employer about the operation of the new National Employment Standards right. The bill does not intend to disturb existing dispute resolution procedures in industrial instruments, employment contracts or other agreements.

As already stated, the bill will not disturb existing industry-specific standards in modern awards from operating as a minimum safety net.

Where awards that contain a casual conversion clause apply to employers and employees, there will be no change for them.

Where enterprise agreements are in place, those agreements must provide a right to request casual conversion that is the same as or better than any casual conversion clause in the relevant modern awards.

This government is committed to fairness and balance in Australia's industrial relations system, where people find reward and value in their work, and business can thrive and create jobs.

The government is fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that all employees have access to a minimum entitlement of a right to request casual conversion, and all businesses, big and small, have clarity on their obligations in making workforce planning decisions.

Importantly, for small businesses, the majority of which employ their staff under a modern award, this bill will not create significant new obligations.

Including casual conversion in the National Employment Standards will also increase awareness of this entitlement. Employers are required to give all new employees a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement. Under the bill, all current potentially eligible casual employees will also be informed by their employer of this new entitlement.

This bill is the right result for Australian workers, Australian business and the Australian economy. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.