OPINION

Australia's casual workers deserve far better

HARD TIMES: Casual workers won't be as scared about losing two weeks pay as they will be about losing their jobs altogether.
HARD TIMES: Casual workers won't be as scared about losing two weeks pay as they will be about losing their jobs altogether.

I think one of the scariest things that has come out of the government response to this COVID-19 crisis - yet again - is how seemingly out of touch our leaders are.

According to the Australian Unions, 3.3 million Australians are casual workers. Just over half of these casuals are women and 40 per cent of them are 15-24 years old.

Last week, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter - who really should know better - was quoted as saying in response to the impact of COVID-19 on casual workers: "Many people would have already made provisions for that because of course the purpose of casual employment is that you're paid extra in lieu of entitlements."

However, the very nature of casual work is that it is insecure: it is often on a shift by shift basis.

While, the casual loading that people in this employment relationship are paid is meant to be compensation for the lack of paid sick, annual, holiday, carer's or personal leave, in reality, this loading is also compensation for the irregularity of shifts and the fact that they may go for days (or in some cases weeks) without work.

Casual workers forced to self-quarantine won't be as scared about losing two weeks pay as they will be about losing their jobs altogether.

Everyone knows that in the world of casual work, if you don't turn up not only do you not get paid, but you also shouldn't bother going back.

At the time of writing, the federal government dismissed unions' claim that employers should be forced to pay their workers sick leave and has instead instigated a waiver of the one-week waiting period for the taxpayer-funded sickness allowance - due to be changed later this month and become the job seeker payment. Confused yet?

People will still need to qualify for this sickness allowance, which is means tested, and if your partner is working, it is highly unlikely that you will be eligible to receive the aid. Mind you, even if you did manage to get through to Centrelink, were actually able to qualify for the payment, and the waiting period waiver didn't get lost in administrative handballing, you would not receive more than $40 a day.

That's not going to pay the rent, now is it? Welcome to the hellhole that is welfare payments.

According to the most recent available data from the ABS, the average weekly casual wages were just shy of $700 a week.

However, the average national ordinary time earnings for Australians was just under $1700 a week.

Tell me again how people working casually have ferreted away their casual loading pay "top up" for global virus pandemics?

Everyone knows that in the world of casual work, if you don't turn up not only do you not get paid, but you also shouldn't bother going back.

It's easy to feel a bit apocalypsey about all this.

When you consider that the federal leadership are very proud of their strict rules on Australian border security - but refuse to close them down to keep us safe - and when they are going against the very advice of health organisations they are telling us to follow by refusing to get tested despite being in contact with an infected person within the WHO defined infection period, it's challenging to feel like we can trust those whom we elected to be our voice.

When we look around and see grown people fighting in the supermarkets over toilet rolls and macaroni, we see people trying to profit off the crisis by selling essentials online for hugely marked up prices and we see our neighbours who don't have the means to make it to pay day let alone stockpile the basics, it's hard not to feel like the end is nigh.

I think it's easy to be ethical and moral when our ethics and morals are untested.

The true measure of a person is not what they do when the waters are calm, but what they do when they are in the midst of a storm.

As with all things scary, it seems, we find that we are never abandoned by Mr Rogers. Look for the helpers, my friends.

They are there in our business community offering to pay casuals sick leave despite this not being enforced. They are in our schools, helping our children feel safe, they are in the hospitals, nursing our loved ones back to health, and they are walking among us all with a kind word and, hopefully, a spare roll of toilet paper.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au