Approximately 20 per cent of Australians are currently employed in casual work. And with an increasing number of employees being forced to work as casuals even though their role is full time, the impact on them can be devastating.

Uncertainty caused by casual work

Casuals often do the same work as permanent employees, yet their life is filled with uncertainty. Not only can casual work put them at a distinct disadvantage in terms of worker's rights, but they can also face difficulty in obtaining loans, not to mention the risk of losing their job at any given moment.

Under section 96 of the Fair Work Act 2009, casual workers miss out on annual leave, personal leave and carer's leave, as well as sick leave entitlements. Their rosters can change from day to day and they can endure days or weeks without pay when they are not called in to work.

Yet casual workers are still expected to be available for work at any time or they could lose their job. This particularly impacts women and people aged under 35, of whom one in three are casuals.

What rights do casual workers have?

People employed as casuals do have workplace rights, and it's important for them to understand what they are, so they can protect themselves if they are disadvantaged at work.

For instance, many casual employees aren't aware that they're entitled to long service leave. They're also supposed to receive a 25 per cent casual loading on their hourly rate of pay. In addition, people in casual work have the right to reasonably refuse shifts and request flexibility.

Consequences of workplace injury for casual workers

A story that recently aired on the ABC highlighted the case of a coal miner who had had a workplace accident which had left him disabled. The 47-year-old was deemed totally incapacitated after suffering spinal injuries when the truck he was driving was hit by a coal excavator.

The mine owner stated that the injured miner wasn't a permanent employee, as he had been hired by a labour hire company that had classified him as a casual worker.

Because of this, both the mine owner and labour hire firm refused to pay the injured miner the industry standard accident compensation. As a casual he receives $411 a week in injury compensation, instead of the $1800 he would get as a permanent employee.

The injured miner said he and the other casual workers at the mine do exactly the same work and are exposed to the same dangers as permanent employees, yet they get paid half the compensation if they are harmed.

Option to convert from casual work to permanent employment after 12 months

In the latest review of modern awards for casual and part-time employment, the Fair Work Commission ruled that casual workers who work on a long term, regular basis must be provided with the option of converting to permanent employment after 12 months with the same employer. They also stated that employers must provide "reasonable" grounds to reject such a request.

Unions are currently pushing for legislative changes to give casual workers the ability to automatically convert to permanent employment after six months with the same employer.

If you're employed in casual work, it's important to understand your entitlements, know your obligations and explore your options for securing future permanent employment.

Nathan Luke
Employment law
Stacks Law Firm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.