ACTU stuck in reverse on workplace policy

The CEO of Australia’s peak industry body for staffing and job agencies, RCSA, Charles Cameron, reacted strongly to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus’ address to the Press Club today, slamming calls for a halving of casual work over the coming decade as a recipe for lower wages, higher unemployment and economic regression.

“It is clear from McManus’ address today that the ACTU are stuck in reverse when it comes to job creation and workplace policy,” Mr Cameron said.

“Casual and agency workers are the safety net that ensures continuity of care for the Australian community. They fill the gaps when permanent health, aged care and child care workers are unavailable, on leave or unwell.

“Any push to restrict or reduce casual work will drag Australia deeper into economic quicksand at a time when we are just starting to pull ourselves out.

“Rather than medicine, it would be poison for job creation and workers, akin to spraying weed killer on the green shoots of Australia’s economic recovery.”

He said claims from McManus that casual work leaves people especially exposed to economic downturn, or that it threatens community health or the economy are irresponsible scaremongering.

“The nature of job losses during COVID had far less to do with an employee’s engagement terms than it did the sector they worked in,” Mr Cameron said. “Sure, in sectors like hospitality, which employs a larger number of casuals, a significant proportion of job losses were casual.

“In other impacted sectors however, such as aviation, professional services and finance, where there is a greater propensity for full time work, the bulk of job losses were permanent ones.”

Cameron said claims about casual workers threatening community health are especially irresponsible and risk creating future gaps in vital care for the Australian community.

“There is simply no way that Victoria could have cared for its sick and elderly throughout the pandemic without access to fully qualified casually engaged agency healthcare workers.”

‘I’m not sure who the ACTU believes would or should have filled the more than 30,000 shifts in aged care facilities that resulted from the stand down and isolation of regular employees during COVID outbreaks.

“I can tell them from our experience though, that without casually engaged agency workers there wouldn’t have been anyone to feed and clean residents. Hospitals were also heavily reliant on a casual workforce to supplement staffing during peak demand and to ensure continuity of care when permanent health workers were required to isolate.”

In her speech, McManus repeats the same old claims about casual work that the we have heard from her many times before. Stories of crisis fuelled by insecure work and rising casualisation – the only problem being that they are not supported by the truth.


Data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey provides evidence on casual work that strongly contradicts the stories we hear from the ACTU.

“HILDA data confirms that casual employment, as a proportion of the Australian workforce, has not changed over the past 20 years. Furthermore, the proportion of people working in labour hire and independent contracting between 2001 and 2017 actually declined,” Mr Cameron said.

“There was nothing new in today’s address. It was the same rhetoric on non-permanent work that we have heard time and again from the ACTU.

“It fails to acknowledge that flexible work offers choice and opportunity for many Australians who choose to work in a non-traditional way. Those who want to fit their work around the study or family, who want to combine work with travel or who want a different work/life balance.

“I’m not sure what is most concerning; the fact that the ACTU refuses to accept some people actually might choose work flexibly, refuses to acknowledge the vital role of casual work in job creation during COVID recovery, or that they continue to perpetuate myths about casual work and job security that have no basis in fact,” he said.

“We encourage the Government to incorporate casual conversion pathways in its omnibus legislation. It will reinforce what we already know from conversion take up to date - that the majority of people employed flexibly actually prefer to work in a non-permanent role.”

The RCSA CEO claims that concepts of an “insecure work crisis” perpetuated by unions and some State Governments in recent times need to be seen for what they are... old ideological arguments that have been window-dressed for COVID to leverage community fear and pressure decision makers.

“I challenge McManus’ claims in The Australian this morning that the ACTU ‘hasn’t been carrying weapons; (they) have been holding a shield for the past few decades’. Their lies about casualisation and work security are weapons, dangerous ones with serious repercussions,” he said.

“Policy pathways built on fantasy concepts are dangerous at the best of times, but they are especially toxic as we work to recover from economic downturn.

“The pandemic has not highlighted a casual crisis. If anything, it has highlighted the insecurity of all forms of work during severe economic downturn.

“What it will highlight now however, is the ‘casual hero’ of job creation. Many people who have lost their jobs will find a pathway back into the workforce through casual employment and labour hire,” he said “It is flexibility that will support employer confidence, driving them to create more jobs more quickly, boosting economic recovery as Australia rebounds from COVID.”

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