Casual Employees – A win for workers

Win for workers

The High Court handed down Judgement that has overturned a Lower Court Judgment on Wednesday, 4 August 2021 that will pave the way for long-term casual workers to be paid leave entitlements.

The Federal Court in May 2020 found workers employed on a regular, permanent basis were not casual employees under the Fair Work Act, making them entitled to annual, sick and other leave.

The case was brought on behalf of mining truck driver Robert Rossato who was entitled to be paid a 25 per cent casual loading along with leave entitlements because of his regular pattern of work, backing up an earlier ruling.

This is a fantastic decision that puts an end to the ‘permanent casual’ rort that has become a scourge in the coal mining industry and across the workforce.
It’s a decision that passes the pub test on what it means to be a casual and is consistent with community expectations that casual work is irregular and intermittent.

Employers must now stop with the nonsense that calling a worker a casual makes them so.

When a job is full-time, regular and on-going, it is permanent and deserves the security and entitlements that come with permanent work. The Union has worked hard to clarify the law with this decision and are now fighting to restore rights and lost pay for casual labour hire workers across the coal mining industry who have been illegally ripped off.

Former casual coal miner Paul Skene, a CFMEU member who previously took on WorkPac and won backpaid annual leave on the basis he wasn’t a genuine casual, said he was delighted the substance of his case had been upheld. “I’m delighted with this decision,” he said. “It clearly shows how casuals have been ripped off and treated like second class citizens. I’m very pleased that the law is now clear and that my case has made a difference.”

Background:

WorkPac v Rossato was a case brought by labour hire giant WorkPac designed to wind back the Federal Court’s prior decision in the matter of casual coal miner and CFMEU member, Paul Skene.

It goes to the principle that the objective reality of the employment relationship should determine if a worker is casual or permanent, not just the description preferred by the employer. That is, a casual job should be genuinely irregular and intermittent and not just a permanent job without security or entitlements.

WorkPac v Skene was run over four years by the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division.

Paul Skene was a fly in fly out haul truck driver on two large coal mines in central Queensland, working a seven days-on, seven days-off roster, set 12 months in advance. He was employed as a casual by labour hire company WorkPac but directly supervised by Rio Tinto and performing the same work as direct Rio Tinto employees.

His argument was that his work arrangement did not fit the legal definition of a ‘casual employee’ and was therefore owed annual leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards.

In an August 2018 decision, a full bench of the Federal Court agreed, blowing the whistle on the long-term ‘permanent casual’ rort in the coal mining industry. The Union estimates that some 40% of coal miners are now employed as labour hire casuals, performing the same work as permanents but with no job security or entitlements and earning about one-third less.

The decision paved the way for casual mineworkers in regular and continuous employment to claim unpaid leave entitlements as their work arrangements were in practice permanent and on-going.

Unusually, WorkPac did not appeal the Skene judgment to the High Court but rather initiated a new case in the Federal Court known as WorkPac v Rossato, in the hope of undermining the Skene decision’s definition of casual as intermittent and irregular. The WorkPac v Rossato case also sought to obtain a favourable judgment on the issue of ‘set-off’ to reduce their potential financial liability for backpay claims.

WorkPac was unsuccessful. This decision is a legal first and today’s decision upholds the principles in Skene and bolsters efforts to restore entitlements and security to jobs which have traditionally been permanent jobs. It also facilitates backpay claims for workers previously misclassified as casuals, including the Union’s own class action against WorkPac.

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