Casual Employment, Labour Regulation and Australian Trade Unions
journal contributionposted on 05.06.2017, 04:24 by Campbell, Iain
This article explores the implications for trade unions of the rapid expansion in Australia of casual employment - a distinctive form of precarious employment characterised by a lack of entitlement to most employment benefits and forms of employment protection. The article summarises the main features of casual employment and the evidence for its growth since 1982. It highlights the role of award regulation in shaping casual employment. Casual employment is identified as unprotected employment, which survived within the award system and indeed flourished in the gaps created by officially-sanctioned exemptions from protection and limits in the enforcement and reach of award regulation. Labour market deregulation in the 1990s has in turn widened these gaps and facilitated both an expansion of casual employment and an extension of some casual conditions of employment into sections of the permanent workforce. These developments offer a major challenge to Australian trade unions. They underline the failure of traditional trade union policies, oriented to a simple rejection of all forms of non-standard employment. They pose a threat both to the set of employment rights and benefits slowly built up by trade union action over the course of past decades and to the legitimacy of trade unions as representative institutions. Australian trade unions are still struggling to come to grips with this threat. Traditional policies remain dominant, but recent trade union policy and practical efforts point towards a new approach that builds on a less hostile and more discriminating attitude to non-standard employment. In relation to the crucial issue of labour regulation the new approach pivots on the important theme of decasualisation. The direction of change is promising. But the article argues that the new approach remains weak and underdeveloped as a result of its narrow orientation to the redesign of agreements within the shrinking sphere of effective regulation, its focus on casual status rather than casual conditions of employment and its inability to find effective levers for implementation.