The Right to Be Casual

By Danielle Thompson

For some casual employees, asking for a Saturday off causes serious pangs of guilt. Knowing that they may not be rostered on for a while, it can be hard to pass up weekend rates.

The average casual employee also often suffers cancelled shifts only hours before they are dressed and ready to head out the door for work. Frequently, a shift of mine has been cancelled with hour or less notice, crippling my plans and my weekly budget.

As full-time work becomes harder to get a hold of and many of us find ourselves in casual jobs during and after our uni stint, it is important to know what, as a casual worker we are entitled to. Zana Bytheway, Executive Director at Job Watch, said that she has noticed casual employment growing for a number of years, particularly with young people and women.

Amelia Murphy, a law student and chronic casual employee, has found herself at some time or another within the realms of retail or reception work, hospitality and even farming.

“I have been working casual jobs from the age of 16, I got a job as soon as I could,” she said.

Murphy, as a law student is expected to study a minimum of 55 hours a week. With her plethora of casual jobs, she finds it hard to find the time to properly focus on uni.

Over the summer she said she was working three different jobs, one as a medical receptionist, and then two separate hospitality jobs. With uni back on she has dropped it back to just one job.

PAY

One major problem that affects casual workers is often receiving fair pay. Murphy said when she worked three jobs over the holidays, two out of three were paying her under the award.

“My second waitressing job was paying me $17 an hour, I believe that’s $5 under the award,” she said.

At the same time at her job as a medical receptionist, she was asked to upgrade the system and train existing staff to use it. She was still only getting paid $18 an hour under the award of a ‘retail assistant’.

“When I brought up that I ought to be paid as a ‘medical receptionist’ at $26 an hour, I was sidestepped again and again until I threatened legal action,” said Murphy.

Those getting paid under the award should notify the Fair Work Ombudsman, it is of no cost the employee and “they have a fairly high success rate,” said Bytheway.

Even at her current job, where she is paid according to the award, Murphy said she doesn’t feel as though she is paid high enough considering the high standard she is expected to uphold.

“The staff at the place I work are all extremely competent and dedicated to our job and the business, yet we are not paid accordingly,” she said.

HOURS

Another major issue with casual work, is the inconsistent rostering. Murphy said she is consistently unsure how many hours she will work every week, making it incredibly difficult to budget.

According to Job Watch, an employment rights legal centre, casual workers’ shifts are able to be “cancelled or you can be sent home early if you are not needed by your employer.”

Murphy said she generally receives 2-3 hours notice before a shift is cancelled, but she knows that this is often not the case with her workmates, who may receive only an hour, or less notice.

Bytheway said that casual employers do not have to give workers a particular amount of notice before cancelling a shift. “There is no certainty about that,” she said.

The amount of hours a casual staff member will receive on a weekly basis is often also used as a punishment system. According to Murphy, if a casual worker has recently asked for time off or has made mistakes at work, they are likely to receive fewer shifts.

Valuable weekend hours are frequently withheld when managers are not happy with the availability or quality of work of their staff, said Murphy.

However, allocation of hours or rostering cannot be considered as work place bullying, so using hours as a punishment system is within the rights of the employer, said Job Watch.

“One must simply wait out the period, while they are being punished, financially and socially,” said Murphy.

“While in theory you may decline work, it can be difficult to refuse hours if you are relying on your employer to offer you work in the future,” noted Job Watch’s legal advice page.

DISMISSAL

Like full and part time workers, casual workers are covered under Unfair Dismissal Laws. However, for an unfair dismissal claim to go through, it has to be submitted within 21 days of dismissal, said Job Watch.

For casual workers a manager, rather than dismissing an individual may decide just to stop rostering them on. Unfortunately, as rostering decisions are in the hands of the manager, this is a legitimate move.

Murphy said she has seen this happen many times and has even had it happen to her. When doing casual work, “you do not have to be fired to lose your job.”

She said that those in power, often do not “respect the full power they hold over casual employees.”

Bytheway noted that sometimes casual workers “have limited rights on unfair dismissal”.

She said that there are a definite “lack of benefits” for casual employees however, she feels that there is still a place for casual work to exist.

Casual work has a “great deal of uncertainty” and isn’t for everyone, said Bytheway.

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