The “cancer” of insecure work will be addressed by a nation-leading program to provide sick leave for casual workers in industries at the centre of COVID outbreaks.
But it has opened yet another front in the simmering battle between the federal and state governments, with Daniel Andrews lobbing a thinly veiled attack at PM Scott Morrison for failing to address the issue earlier.
The Victorian Premier announced on Monday that his state budget would include plans for a pilot scheme to offer sick leave to casual workers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the entitlement.
Mr Andrews linked the reform to the pandemic, saying COVID had “shone a bright light on some of the darkest cracks in our nation’s economy”.
Recent breaches in hotel quarantine, as well as outbreaks at workplaces, have been linked to insecure work and employees turning up to their jobs while sick.
“Too often, workers are being forced to choose between a day’s pay and their health – and the health of every Victorian. Over the past eight months, we’ve seen just how dangerous and unfair that can be,” Mr Andrews said.
The Secure Work Pilot Scheme – providing five days sick and carer’s leave at the minimum wage – will be rolled out to workers in “select sectors” with high casual rates, which may include cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care staff.
The pilot will be funded by the government, but a full-scale implementation would be bankrolled by a business levy.
Mr Andrews said it was doing “what no other government has”.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too-hard basket and do something about it,” he said.
It wasn’t hard to see those comments as a subtle dig at the federal government, which initially resisted union proposals to institute wide-ranging workplace protections during the pandemic, before later rolling out JobKeeper, paid pandemic leave and other crucial safeguards.
Liberals scorn ‘big tax’
Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter was quick to respond, claiming the proposal “raises a number of major issues”.
He slammed the plan as “a massive tax on Victorian businesses”, citing that employers would have to pay a standard extra loading to casuals plus a levy to fund the sick leave scheme.
“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?” Mr Porter said in a statement.
“That would be a business and employment-killing approach.”
The minister also pointed out the federal government was providing $1500 for people without sick leave who are required to isolate after a positive test.
Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien launched a similar attack, calling the plan “a new tax on jobs”.
“Labor’s announcement of a new levy is a kick in the guts to all those small businesses who have battled through the harsh lockdowns because of Daniel Andrews’ second wave of coronavirus,” he said.
“We need to make it cheaper and easier for small business to grow, to just to get back on their feet. Not make it harder.”
Unions back plan to address ‘cancer’
Unsurprisingly, trade union groups praised the Victorian pilot scheme.
“It is good that the Andrews government is taking action to fill the gaps, however this issue is much bigger than any one state,” Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus told The New Daily.
“The federal government needs to step up and start looking to solutions that strengthen us a community. All permanent jobs deserve permanent rights.”
Ms McManus said insecure work conditions had “created two classes of workers, those with basic rights and those without”.
“For too long now, what are actually permanent, ongoing jobs have been casualised, stripping them of these basic rights,” she said.
Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari also backed the plan, calling insecure work “toxic” and a “cancer” on society.
“The stress and the fear of knowing you’re one bad flu away from being unable to pay your rent is just something no Victorian should live with. Every Victorian worker should have paid sick leave,” he said in a statement.
“Just like the introduction of wage theft laws and labour hire laws, it has been up to the states to show leadership while Prime Minister Morrison is forced to play catch up.”
Mr Hilakari, too, called on the federal government to mandate such a scheme at the national level.
“It is beyond time that this nation had laws to ensure that every single worker was entitled to take sick leave,” he said.