CQ’s casual workers central to latest parliamentary battle
SHOWING support for Central Queensland's resource industry is central to ideological battles playing out between Australia's two major political parties in parliament.
After the Coalition Government last week sought to wedge Labor on using tax payer funds for a $3.3 million feasibility study into building a HELE coal-fired power station in Collinsville, Labor will attempt to turn the tables this week on behalf of casual mine workers.
In the case between Robert Rossato, a coal mine worker, and the labour hire company WorkPac, a landmark Federal Court decision was made in May.
The decision confirmed that "casual" workers who worked regular and predictable shifts with a firm advance commitment to work were not casuals, but actually permanent staff, despite how they were described in employment contracts and were therefore were entitled to paid annual, sick and carer's leave.
Modelling based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, predicts businesses could be forced to back-pay between 540,000 and 1.2 million casuals between $18.5 and $39.4 billion for six years of accrued leave if the court rules against them.
Australian Industry Groups claim that employees engaged as a casual and paid a casual loading should not be allowed to turn around years later and claim the entitlements of a permanent employee, like annual leave.
With the backing of the Coalition Government, this decision was now being appealed in the High Court to clarify what casuals should be paid and how offset arrangements should work.
Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt said coal miners in Central Queensland, and right across the state, had been dealt a cruel blow by the Federal Government backing a legal case which threatens to strip miners of their basic rights.
"Too many miners in the region are getting treated as 'permanent casuals', with worse pay and conditions, even after casual loadings are included," Senator Watt said.
"This High Court appeal seeks to rob long-term miners of the security, protections and leave entitlements of permanent work. It's disturbing the Coalition Government has chosen to publicly throw its support behind it.
"Labor believes when a job is full-time, regular and ongoing, it is permanent and deserves the security and entitlements that come with permanent work."
Senator Watt said big mining companies using casual, labour hire contracts for workers who work regular, full-time hours, had been taking advantage of the system for too long.
"So we have mine workers who've been working for years full-time that can't get a mortgage, who don't get sick pay, who don't know if they'll have a job next week, and that's not fair," he said.
Queensland's Federal Labor Senators planned to move a motion in Canberra on Monday, calling for the Federal Government to withdraw from the High Court case.
They framed this vote as a test for LNP's local Federal representatives like Matt Canavan, Michelle Landry, George Christensen and Ken O'Dowd, who say they supported miners, to prove they back workers and not just for the big mining and labour hire companies.
"This is a test for the LNP - we know they like coal, but do they really like coal miners? If they really do support miners, they will vote with Labor to call on the Federal Government to withdraw from the court case," Senator Watt said.
Senator Canavan said Senator Watt's claims were "absolute bulldust".
"I challenge him to find one quote where I or any other member of the LNP have supported making people "permanent casuals". We never have and never will," Senator Canavan said.
"I don't think small businesses should be made to retrospectively pay both casual loading and leave entitlements.
"That could bankrupt many businesses and Murray has never quiet made clear, does he support making small businesses pay both a casual loading and leave entitlements for past arrangements?"
Ms Landry said she had been contacted by many small businesses in CQ who were genuinely concerned about current and past causal workers potentially seeking back pay.
"This High Court case has far and wide reaching effects to every small business, every sector and every industry in Australia," Ms Landry said.
"Small businesses around Australia could face a back pay hit of up to $40 billion if the court decision allows casual workers to claim up to six years worth of paid holidays and sick leave.
"These small businesses are owned by mums and dads who are struggling to keep their doors open and employ people in the community, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic and Australia's worst recession since World War II as a result."
She said if this decision wasn't challenged in some form, small and medium sized businesses around Australia could be forced to close their doors if they received a hefty back pay bill at a time when money had never been tighter.
"Last week, even the CFMEU said they are withdrawing support from the Labor Party for not standing up for blue collar workers and families in the community,'
"If the Labor Party actually supported mining workers, they would be supporting the Federal Government's feasibility study for a 1GW HELE coal fire power station in Collinsville. Instead, they decided to cosy up to the Greens yet again."
With the legislation unable to be passed 15 months on, they have copped criticism from Labor.
"The Labor Party has refused to support that legislation seemingly because they would prefer to misleadingly campaign on the problem rather than deliver a solution," Senator Canavan said.