The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has lashed out the changes to the casual conversion process in the Closing Loopholes Bill that is currently sweeping through Federal Parliament. 

The peak body claimed the legislation still includes some confusing and potentially problematic provisions relating to the commencement date for the casual conversion process, which could be addressed if the crossbench agrees to adopt amendments put forward by the opposition yesterday.

Casual conversion is when a casual employee converts to permanent part-time or full-time. Under current laws, a casual employee who has worked at least 12 months for one employer must be offered the opportunity to convert to permanent employment. There are some exemptions, particularly for small businesses.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said this is a main concern for retailers, considering the important role casual workers play in the sector. 

“We think there is an opportunity to remove the remaining irritants in relation to the changes to casual work arrangements, by passing the oppositions’ amendments that provide greater clarity on when the changes to the casual conversion process would come into effect,” Zahra said.

In its submission to the Closing Loopholes Senate Inquiry in October 2023, the ARA advocated for the removal of duplicate pathways for casual conversion, and recently appealed to government, opposition and crossbench to consider the implementation timelines of these changes.  

“We welcome removal of the current employer-led conversion process, in favour of the employee-choice pathway,” Zahra said. “And we welcome the six-month deferral on commencement of these provisions, so our members have time to prepare for these changes.  

“However, as it stands, it remains unclear how these two concessions will interact with each other and when these changes will actually take effect.”

The ARA has made a number of recommendations that will be included in the final version of the legislation, which includes allowing an employee-led process and removing the duplicative employer-led process. 

Others include consideration for the implementation timelines; making sure that an employment contract can still be considered when determining an employees’ work status; ensuring that historical work patterns are not the only determining factor on whether an employee can convert to permanent; and allowing employers the right to refuse conversion requests on fair and reasonable operational grounds. 

“On balance, our assessment is that this was a poor process that has delivered a bad outcome,” Zahra said.

“The only concession is that the Bill is not as bad as it could have been, thanks to the last-minute amendments put forward by the crossbench and opposition in the Senate.  

“Hopefully passage of this legislation draws a line under the most significant workplace relations changes in more than a decade, so that government and industry can work together on more positive reforms that improve productivity, create more jobs and drive wages growth, instead of creating more rules, restrictions and red tape.”

Speaking on ABC Radio National this week, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke said the fear campaign on the changes to casual workers is “divorced from reality”. 

“Most casuals want to be casuals, and nothing will change for them,” Burke said. “And I agree with the business figures, they say there might be 5 per cent of casuals who would like to be permanents. 

“But the principle is this: If you're already being rostered and the employer intends to continue to roster you in the exact way that they would roster a permanent, then you should be able to say, ‘Look, I'd rather get the security of being a permanent worker’ and this is the really simple reason.”

Burke said this is of particular importance for those wanting to secure a rental property and require permanent employment.

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