18 May 2024
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Dan Andrews' gift to casuals and contractors

Peter Switzer
15 March 2022

The Victorian Government wants casual and contract workers to have access to five days sick or carer's leave and is prepared to put up $245.6 million to test out Premier Dan Andrews’ gift delivered on Labour Day in his state on Monday. If anything, this looks like a fair thing for workers but who’s going to pay for this nice idea long term?

That’s what business groups are concerned about. The clear cut message is that down the track if the policy is well-received and it works, an industry levy will pay for it.

The main driver for Andrews to pilot this program was the revelation that one in five casual and contract workers work more than one job, with many without access to sick and carer’s pay. Before Covid struck, politicians ignored the fact that many casual and contract workers had to choose between working or taking an unpaid sick day.

Also, the plight of workers in the gig economy was ignored until the Coronavirus not only increased the demand for and supply of Deliveroo and other bike-riding food deliverers, it has encouraged full-time workers to apply for a hybrid or work-from-home model of employment.

This change of thinking by employees could also escalate the number of workers who could go part-time or casual to incorporate a different work-life balance regime in their day-to-day working and living.

Bosses must be thinking this will be the thin end of the wedge, with the Victorian Government funding this program for two years. If it works, businesses will be levied/taxed to make it work nationally or state by state.

“Now Victorian casual and contract workers are able to register for the two-year scheme and it’s expected more than 150,000 workers will be eligible for the first phase,” ninenews.com.au reports. “Eligible workers will receive up to five days a year of sick or carer's pay at the national minimum wage. As part of the first phase of the scheme, workers from hospitality, food trade, retail, aged care and disability care can all apply.”

However, what sounds like a fair idea for gig economy workers, could scare businesses into thinking it will extend to all casual workers and contractors. Within hours of the government press conference, businesses, industry groups and the opposition were describing the proposal as a 'tax on employment' and a 'sick-pay tax', respectively,” The Guardian reported.Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the peak employer association Ai Group, said several occupations included in the first phase – such as butchers, chefs, pastry cooks, motor vehicle salespersons and supermarket workers – could not be considered insecure.

“Presumably phase two will involve an even wider set of eligible occupations and a much larger cost. These huge costs will no doubt require a very substantial levy on Victorian businesses if the government decides to pass on the costs to businesses at the end of the two-year trial, as it appears to be planning to do.”

Right now, employers are having to deal with the fallout from the Coronavirus lockdowns that includes:

1. Reduced sales and profits for two years.

2. Industrial action for higher pay.

3. The ‘Great Resignation’ as employees reassess their working lives.

4. Demands for work-from-home or a hybrid model of employment.

5. Surging costs for products linked to the pandemic’s hit on the supply chain.

6. The cost of oil, petrol and energy because of the Ukraine war.

7. The costs associated with working and adapting to the post-pandemic, new-age workplace.

For two years the Victorian Government will foot the bill for their program, but it will eventually become a business cost. Let’s hope our economy is going gangbusters then or else we could see employers look for technological or overseas options to replace increasingly more expensive local workers.

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