The Victorian government has announced a $5 million two-year trial to provide paid sick leave and carer’s pay for casual and insecure workers.
The newly announced Secure Work Pilot Scheme will provide up to five days of sick and carer’s pay at the national minimum wage for casual or insecure workers in priority industries.
Once up and running, the two-year pilot will afford these workers sick pay when they’re unwell, and carer’s pay when they need to take time to look after someone.
The pilot scheme is expected to cover workers in select sectors with high rates of casualisation, including cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care staff.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the Victorian Budget 2020/21 will provide $5 million for consultation on the design of the pilot scheme to work through issues including documentation required to support payment applications and protections for workers who apply to access the scheme.
The pilot will roll out in two phases over two years with the occupations eligible for each phase to be finalised after a consultation process that will include workers, industry, and unions.
Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors will be invited to pre-register for the scheme, providing their contact details and information about their employment so that applications can be fast-tracked if they need to apply for payments.
“When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family. The ultimate decision they make isn’t wrong – what’s wrong is they’re forced to make it at all,” Andrews said.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it – and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the scheme “raises a number of major issues.”
“The central problem with the Victorian proposal is it seems to start with a small, government-funded pilot and intends to finish with what would be a massive tax on Victorian businesses who would be forced to pay for both a 25 per cent additional loading in wages to compensate for casuals not receiving sick leave and then having to pay for an industry levy to fund sick leave as well,” the Attorney-General said.
“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?”
Porter said a better policy approach is to strengthen the ability of workers to choose to move from casual to permanent full or part-time employment if that is what they want to do.
“It must surely be a better approach to let people have greater choice between casual and permanent employment than forcing businesses to pay a tax so that someone can be both a casual employee and get more wages as compensation for not getting sick leave – but then also tax the business to pay for getting sick leave as well.”
Kim Puxty, president of the Building Service Contractors Association of Australia (BSCAA), said there should be a “realistic dialogue between workers, employers, unions and government about what employment arrangements are going to work in a practical sense to help the economy revive”.
“The BSCAA and its members do not argue that the Australian economy depends on workers receiving sustainable wages. Australia is built on the principle of the ‘fair go’ and giving people a fair go very much includes workers of all types.
“Having said that, the pilot program for paid leave for casuals is puzzling to many. Casuals already receive a 25 per cent loading on their pay precisely to compensate them for not receiving paid leave.
“Is the provision of paid leave for casuals what the economy really needs as Australia struggles to lift itself out of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Simply mandating paid leave for workers already receiving a 25 per cent loading, albeit in a pilot program, does not seem consistent with the notion of dialogue and a realistic exchange of views. Let’s have some dialogue first before pilot programs are up and running.”
Federal Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said a estimated 3.7 million Australians – casuals, contractors, freelancers, sole traders and gig economy workers – don’t have any access to paid sick leave or the other protections of permanent employment.
“If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything it’s that insecure work is not just a threat to the wellbeing of individuals – it’s a threat to the wellbeing of our society. A high proportion of Australia’s coronavirus infections came from people turning up to work sick.
“Workers cannot be forced to choose between paying their bills and protecting their colleagues, customers and patients. Whenever we force people to make that choice the community is put at risk.”
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