The attack on casual workers’ leave will exacerbate a weakness in Australia’s COVID-19 response, say experts.
The Morrison government’s industrial relations bill will increase the casualisation of work, impacting workers who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and undermining Australia’s COVID strategy, say health specialists.
The ANU Research School of Public Health, in a submission to a Senate inquiry, notes that Australia already has one of the highest rates of individuals without leave entitlements among OECD nations, with estimates ranging from 25 per cent to 37 per cent of the workforce.
“Casual workers are twice affected by the pandemic, due to the absence of leave entitlements, and by being among the lowest paid and insecure workers,” they said.
The public health experts cited modelling that paid leave, including for flu and other infectious diseases, can reduce workplace infections by at least 25 per cent.
They argue casual workers are already at risk of infection and transmission, citing healthcare workers, personal care attendants, cleaners, security guards, abattoir workers, delivery workers, supermarket staff, public transport and taxi drivers, and childcare staff.
One of the researchers, Professor Kamalini Lokuge, said “all the evidence shows the changes proposed in this act pose an immediate threat to public health”.
“The proposed changes will undermine our world-class response to COVID by increasing casual employment and insecure working conditions. They will also lead to inadequate protections and lack of access to paid sick leave.”
Despite having to retreat on most aspects of it’s Omnibus bill, the government was successful in ramming through its changes to casual work, the very changes that will undermine our COVID-19 response.