Retailers are lining up alongside the government and business groups as unions carve out fresh battle lines over casual employment.
Russell Zimmerman from the Australian Retailers Association said the ACTU’s push to make more casual workers permanent employees would cripple shop owners already struggling to stay afloat.
“With the Christmas period coming to an end, and crowds of shoppers entering stores across the country during increased trading hours, the flexibility of casual retail employees is crucial,” he said on Thursday.
Retail foot traffic in the past week had soared 13 per cent compared to the previous year.
“Without the flexibility of casual employees, Australian retailers would not have been able to staff their stores adequately during the busiest time of the year,” Mr Zimmerman said.
The ACTU wants to see a “proper” definition of casual work inscribed in the Fair Work Act, and employees given the option of converting to permanent positions after six months of regular shifts.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the rise of “fake casuals” is one of the key factors behind more than half of Australians being plunged into insecure work without paid annual or sick leave.
But Employment Minister Michaelia Cash accused the unions of scaremongering, pointing to figures showing the rate of casual employment had been relatively stable for 20 years.
Industry and small business groups are also digging in for a fresh fight over casual work, arguing the flexibility offered benefits both employers and staff.
Labor echoed union concerns about rising casualisation and signalled it may consider backing changes to workplace laws after further consultations.