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Casual workers must be protected, alerts specialist


By Juliano Oliveira

“The financial, social and psychological risks for workers and their families who have no access to paid leave and cannot work remotely are significant.”

QUT (Queensland University of Technology) Business School’s employment researcher Professor Paula McDonald has brought to light how vulnerable casual workers may be due to the potential financial fallout from Covid-19.

Businesses are being closed and employees are being sent home. The main issue, however, lies on the lack of rights to which casual workers are subjected. They do not receive paid leave such as annual leave and sick leave.

“Hospitality workers [79% of all workers] and food preparation assistants [75%] are in occupations with the highest prevalence of casual employees.

“Other big users of casual employees are agriculture, forestry and fishing industries where 43% of workers are employed on a casual basis; arts and recreation services which employ 42% of their workers as casuals. In retail, the figure is 36%.”


Professor McDonald said in the event of business closures or periods of isolation, different segments of the Australian community should work cooperatively to protect vulnerable workers if they suddenly lose their livelihoods, even for a short time. This could include:

. Government support packages for individuals who need assistance, as well as businesses;

. Businesses, where they can afford to, should continue to pay their casual employees during temporary closures or enforced isolation;

. Landlords could also play a role in allowing for delayed or reduced rental payments during a period of financial crisis affecting a tenant.

. Financial institutions could adopt temporary lenient approaches to mortgage payments

Professor McDonald said other insecure workers, including freelance or gig workers, those on short-term contracts and new employees with low leave balances, may also be at risk if Covid-19 spread caused widespread business shutdowns.

“As well as no paid leave entitlements, casual workers often experience irregular and insufficient work hours and variable earnings from one pay day to the next. Many are low paid and may have minimal savings to fall back on,” she said.

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