Release type: Transcript


2GB Interview with Deborah Knight


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business


Subjects:  Casual Workers, National Skills Commission Report.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it is the last week of Federal Parliament for the year and the Government is bringing in some massive changes, or hoping to, at least to industrial relations laws. They want to simplify the system. They want to make it easier for businesses to be able to hire more workers and, at the heart of it all is the definition of casual work. What casual work involves and providing more security to casual workers.

Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment and she's on the line for us now. Minister, thanks for joining us.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Thanks for stepping in here earlier too. I was going to talk to you on my show a little later, but you've come to the party - well done, you. So why is this reform package so significant?

MINISTER CASH: Oh look, in the first instance, it's all about one simple goal to help drive jobs growth as we move out of COVID-19. We have around 2.3 million casual employees in Australia. What we don't have though is a definition of casual employment. Many of your listeners would be aware, that means that there's often confusion in terms of work arrangements.

So, what we are doing is we're going to insert a definition of casual employment into the Fair Work Act, bearing in mind that this is being done by the Attorney-General. So, I think it's around 150 hours of consultation with business groups, with the unions and with employee groups. So, it's all about giving certainty to casual employees in terms of both their work arrangements - but as you also know, their entitlements.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The unions though, they're not happy with this. They say the bill is going to entrench casual work because employers, they'll be protected from having to back pay things like leave. What's your response?

MINISTER CASH: Well, I don't agree with that. So, in the first instance this is all about, as I said, giving a definition to casual employment so that both employers and casual employees know: yes, I’m a casual and as such, I need to be paid accordingly. After 12 months, employers will be required to offer to that casual employee, subject to certain criteria – so, for example regular shifts - whether or not that employee wants to move to part time or full-time employment. And that is completely up to the employee themselves.

But additionally, what the bill will do is address the double dipping problem that's been caused by a particular decision - it's known as the Rossato decision - that now means that employers basically are facing a liability. Deb, it's up to $39 billion to basically back pay some employees for both the casual entitlement, the leave loading, on top of that anything that they might have been entitled to if they had been classified as a part time or full time employee in relation to sick leave and annual leave.

So, that's up to $39 billion, and that exposure for employers could actually see them shutting down. What we'll do is we're going to clean that up as well, so address the double dipping problem that we are currently facing.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But with the casual loading Labor claims that, more often than not, casual staff are paid less on an hourly basis than full timers.

MINISTER CASH: Well, casual loading is above and beyond your hourly rate that you would get, say, under the award, or what your employer is paying you, and it's for compensating you for being a casual employee, and as such not getting sick leave and not getting annual leave. So that casual loading is paid in recognition of the fact that you're not permanent and you don't have these leave entitlements, so you get that casual loading.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about this bigger issue of the casualisation of the workforce in Australia? Because we have seen that, that a lot of people are in casual jobs and that's often their choice - they might enjoy that- the nature of that type of employment. But a lot of people say, look, they don't have the option - they might want to go into full-time work and make it a permanent basis, but the workforce, the bosses aren't allowing them to do that.

MINISTER CASH: Yeah. So, in the first instance, what I'd say is the number of casuals in the workforce - as I said it’s about 2.3 million - it’s actually remained steady for around 30 years. So, you actually haven't seen these dramatic fluctuations that the unions and Labor often talk about. Albeit in saying that, of course COVID-19 has heightened concerns about casual employment. But in terms of the actual statistics, it's actually remained steady for about 30 years.

But what the Attorney-General’s, or what the Government's Bill is designed to do is address the problem that you have literally just raised. Casuals who work regular shift patterns can move if they want to - this is their choice - to part time or full-time employment after 12 months. So, employers will be required to offer that casual conversion after 12 months, subject to some criteria.

But it does address exactly what you've just said. The employee who says, hey, hold on, I’ve been working the same shift for two years now and I'm still a casual employee. That will now take care of that issue because the employee will be offered the casual conversion and they will be able to take it up and move to that part-time or full-time employment.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, what about the issue, bigger issue, of job creation? Because we know the economy has been struggling and the workplaces have been struggling, but obviously things are on the up and up, which is wonderful. But the new research out from the National Skills Commission showing that jobs or industries, which ones are most resilient when it comes to occupations. And I guess no surprise is health care is in the highest demand.

MINISTER CASH: You know, I don’t think there’s any surprises there, health care and social assistance. And then, of course, when you actually look at those - what does health care and social assistance actually entail by way of occupations. You need medical practitioners, speech professionals, audiologists, you know, psychiatrists. So, certainly within health care and social assistance themselves there's a plethora - or many, many, should I say, different types of jobs.

But what this report from the National Skills Commission does today is it very much gives people that cause for cautious optimism, but it also says if you are looking at what job should I study for now that pretty much, if there was another pandemic – and God forbid none of us want that.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, please, don’t even think about it.

MINISTER CASH: We’re about to finish 2020 hopefully.


MINISTER CASH: But you know, what are those industries with resilient occupations - and I think that's something that's really been lacking in the type of data we give to people across Australia. So, if you're a young person now thinking what should I do if I want to guarantee that in five years, 10 years, 15 years, I have a job? This report really does set out for you, in the first instance, the top industries. But it then also, as you know, goes through and lists the top 20 resilient occupations. So, it's really saying to you, you want a resilient industry and a resilient occupation, this is what they are, and this is what you need to study. That's a good thing in particular for young people.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well, it's good to know where to target employment. It's interesting, though, I've had many people say to me that - my kids are not yet teenagers - but the jobs of the future for them, you don't even know what they'll be. A lot of them, you've got no clue, they haven't even been invented yet which is hard to get your head around.

But in the here and now, aged care is one of the most resilient jobs, according to this data. But we've seen during COVID, the workforce - it's casualised in that sector, very demanding work, very low pay, which has led to some serious flaws in the system too and in the sector. What are you doing to try to address that in aged care in particular?

MINISTER CASH: Well, in particular, one of the things that the Skills Ministers did to actually get more people into aged care, but certainly with that basic level of qualification, was we released to the market an entry level skill set for aged and disability care. So, you can get your foot in the door, but then you can literally work with the employer in terms of what my career is now going to look like? Where do I want to go within the aged care system itself? That was widely, really well received. And so many people sort of look at the aged care sector and just think: I don't have any basic skill set to get me in there - well, now you do have that entry level skill set and you can get into the sector. But, you know, also when you look at transport, warehousing, logistics - you talk about sort of those jobs of the future, a lot of that's going to be IT and cybersecurity based which I think does present some very exciting choices.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it’s good. It’ll also mean that my 11-year-old who says, I should be gaming, that'll give me more reason to say you can do it. Hang on.

MINISTER CASH: No, no. All of those skills, you know, we sort of look at now and we think, what could they use them for? You know, that logistics, the cyber security, the IT, they're just skill sets in demand. Gaming, as much as I think it drives parents crazy, I mean, it’s giving you a skill set that I certainly don't have, Deb.


MINISTER CASH: But it opens up a world of opportunity for you.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: How confident are you that you'll get this bill through? Because it is the last sitting week of Parliament, you know, it's a big one, and you're facing opposition to sectors from Labor. How confident are you it'll pass?

MINISTER CASH: Well, look, it'll be introduced into the Parliament this week. Whether or not we get to debate it, that is certainly for the Parliament. The Senate may decide that they want to send it off to a committee. But certainly, just in terms of what's the bill all about? The Prime Minister's made it pretty clear we have one simple goal, and that is to help drive jobs growth as we move out of the pandemic. And certainly, the IR reform bill, the omnibus bill, it is very much looking at fixing problems that are well known within the IR system, and acting as that handbrake on jobs growth. All we want is to get as many Australians that are still out of work, back into work - that's our goal as a government.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Well, we'll see how you go with it. And you have yourself a wonderful Christmas, too. It's been a hell of a year for all of us, including yourself. 

MINISTER CASH: And you too, Deb, and thanks for having me on the show.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good on you. Thank you so much. There she is Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment. And she said, that'll be brought before Parliament, the last sitting week of Parliament for the year, and we'll see how it goes - whether or not it actually becomes law. But yeah, we’ll wait and see. Big changes possibly on the way for industrial relations in Australia.