Why the Fair Work Commission’s decision on casual redundancies is great for meat workers

The Fair Work Commission has sent a number of employers scrambling to re-think their policies this week after a precedent-setting decision that will see workers have their time as a casual employee taken into account when receiving redundancy payouts.

The case was championed by our comrades in the AMWU, who successfully appealed to a full bench of the Fair Work Commission (full details here) by arguing that years spent as a casual employee should count at the time a permanent employee is made redundant.

Although this decision does not mean that casual employees are now eligible for redundancy payouts, what it does mean is that permanent employees should receive redundancy payouts that include the time they spent working as a casual before becoming permanent.

The increasing casualisation of the workforce is an enormous issue across many Australian industries, and the meat processing industry has been one of the hardest hit by this dangerous      trend. Where once the meat industry prided itself on providing local, honest, reliable, long-term employment for the hard-working Australian (and it has continued to use that image in its marketing) the reality is that many meat processing companies are now multi-billion dollar mega-corporations overwhelmingly reliant on disposable casual labour.

The cancer in the workforce

Employers like to promote casual labour as a superior alternative to full-time employment, arguing that the higher base rate of pay makes it a more attractive idea. This line of thinking is backed by their friends in the Liberal Party, who argue that casual employment is “flexible” and gives people “options”.

For some people, casual employment is the right thing to do – but for anybody looking to build a life for themselves, to start a family, to one day own a home – casual employment is a cancer that eats away at your future. Casual employees have limited rights and no safety net. The only reason that employers like casual work is because casual workers can be sacked at any time, never get sick pay, never get holiday pay, and in the long run, actually cost the company a lot less money than employing people full-time.

Casual workers especially should never even dream about their work counting towards a redundancy payout – until now.

Fighting back

One of our primary goals at the AMIEU has been to push back against this casualisation trend by campaigning hard at our work sites for employers to transition people from casual to full- or part-time status, as soon as is reasonably possible. In some places we’ve been very successful, while in other workplaces — ones with low union representation — we continue to fight.

This decision paves the way for meat workers who have successfully transitioned from casual to permanent employment to breathe slightly easier in as the crisis gripping Australia’s meat industry continues to cost jobs across the country.

Recent closures like the deeply unnecessary and greedy shut-down of Inghams in Cardiff highlight the need for workers to have a safety net that will support them when things go south. We welcome  the Fair Work Commission’s decision and encourage all permanent employees who were once casuals to make strong note of what this means for their future.