Workers afraid of losing insecure jobs if they take leave or complain about pay
People in part-time or casual positions fear reprisals over taking leave and are left in the dark about work safety, unions tell inquiry
Most workers in part-time or casual positions are afraid to speak up about pay and conditions and feel they can’t take leave without risking their jobs, Victorian unions have told an inquiry into insecure work.
The claims are contained in a Victorian Trades Hall Council analysis of 618 submissions it helped collect for the inquiry into the labour hire industry and insecure work.
The analysis found 55% of workers who made a submission reported they could not speak up about their pay and conditions without risking their jobs.
Half of workers reported they did not have a predictable roster and could not take leave without fear of losing their job. Some 86% of workers in insecure work reported they did not feel confident about the future of their job or income.
The study found 43% of workers reported they were not told about WorkCover or what to do if they were injured.
The inquiry is holding public hearings in Melbourne on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will hear evidence from employer associations, unions and labour hire companies.
Unions have called for the Victorian government to mandate training for workers in insecure jobs on workplace rights, entitlements and work health and safety.
They advocated a labour hire regulation scheme to include requirements that hiring companies pay a bond and annual licence fee and hold a minimum amount of capital to prevent them going bankrupt without paying worker entitlements.
The scheme would include a fit and proper person test to run a labour hire company and a dedicated compliance unit, as well as an expansion of the role of the state government in enforcing workplace laws.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council council secretary, Luke Hilakari, said workers had reported job security was important because it meant the ability to plan their lives, attend special occasions and keep in good mental health.
“Casualisation and labour hire are ripping apart people’s lives. Victorians expect jobs they can count on, but our laws allow employers to casualise people, shifting all the risks on to employees,” Hilakari said.
The Australian Workers’ Union Victorian secretary, Ben Davis, said a labour hire licensing scheme was urgent because of the “ample evidence of exploitation of local and foreign workers”.
The inquiry follows findings by the fair work ombudsman of underpayments by contractors at poultry processor Baiada and a Four Corners investigation into agricultural workers exploited by labour hire companies.
The Australian Industry Group workplace relations head, Stephen Smith, told the inquiry on Monday “the vast majority” of labour hire companies were “reputable in their employment practices and comply with relevant laws and regulations”.
“AI Group is not convinced of the need for a licensing system in the labour hire industry,” he said.
Smith said labour hire employees enjoyed the same level of award and legislative protection as other employees, including the National Employment Standards.
Taking reprisals against employees for accessing workplace rights such as leave or making inquiries about such rights is a breach of general protections under the Fair Work Act.
But in June 2015 the full federal court upheld the right of Endeavour Coal to sack an employee who took sick leave because it found it was motivated by his “unpredictable” absences, not the fact those absences were permitted by personal leave rights.