For a society that prides itself on egalitarianism the ‘mounting evidence that vulnerable workers have borne the brunt of health and financial impacts calls for a broader reform of an industrial relations system that has allowed a class divide in working conditions to fester.’(Conversation, 17/08/20)
Both aged-care and meat-processing workers are on the front line of essential workers. They are in high-risk industries which are poorly paid, lack job security, and have no guarantees with hours of work or sick leave entitlements.
In recent years, this creeping ‘disease’ of a casualisation of the workforce has allowed employers to shoulder virtually no responsibility for their workforce. It also becomes a challenge for workers in terms of their lack of reliable and secure employment.
With the arrival of COVID-19 the whole appearance of employment security in the aged-care sector has been shown to be little more than a façade. This is an area where there have been large numbers of females employed (90%), and of those, 32% were born overseas, 78% are permanent part-time, and 10% are casual or contract (National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey, 2016). Almost 60% work between 16-34 hours per week with a median wage of $680. Thirty per cent would like more work and almost 10% work more than one job.
The danger during this pandemic is the fear workers have of losing work if they become ill with COVD-19. Hence the urge to ignore symptoms and report for work, which has had catastrophic effects in spreading the virus.
This has led to a number of deaths in aged-care homes, particularly homes where workers have worked across several aged-care environments, and the realisation that employees are extremely vulnerable when the casual or contract employment becomes the norm.
Where there is no sick pay entitlements, no paid leave for emergencies, the no work/no pay rule – as simple as that is – leaves workers in no position to miss a shift through illness, family circumstances or for whatever reason.
Meat processing workers face the same insecurities. A report from the Australian Meat Processors Corporation put casuals as high as 20% of the workforce. Eighty per cent are employed as ‘daily hires’. Their jobs can be terminated at the end of a shift.
In April, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) rejected an application for paid pandemic leave to casual workers. It wasn’t until 27 July that the FWC finally granted paid pandemic leave to casual aged-care workers.
In June, the Victorian Government introduced a one-off $1,500 hardship payment for workers who were required to quarantine and were left with no income.
Finally, in August when a Stage 4 lockdown was ordered by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the federal government stepped in with a $1,500 ‘disaster payment’ for all Victorians without paid leave entitlements who were ordered to self-isolate.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Business Council of Australia began pressing the federal government for a national paid pandemic leave and the federal government agreed to extend the disaster payment to all states and territories.
This has clearly shown the flawed nature of casual and contract employment arrangements.
The belated and drawn out payments reluctantly agreed to by both federal and state governments have demonstrated that the employment sector has been harbouring a systemic problem and one which must be addressed when this pandemic is finally over.
Ref: Conversation 17/08/2020
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