Chapter 4

Casual work definitions, demographics and regulations

Australia is somewhat unique among developed countries in its categorisation and widespread use of 'casual employees'. Professor of Employment Relations at Griffith University, Emeritus Professor David Peetz FASSA, explained that 'technically the [Australian Bureau of Statistics] ABS does not estimate the numbers of casual employees'; it estimates the number of employees without leave entitlements and uses this 'as a proxy measure of casual employment'.1
According to Professor Peetz, the proportion of Australian employees lacking leave entitlements is 'high … compared with most other industrialised countries'.2 Direct international comparisons are difficult to make because most countries do not have a category of 'casual employee'. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports on 'short parttime jobs' in member countries, which are nonpermanent jobs where people usually work one to 19 hours per week. In 2019, Australia ranked fourth highest for these types of jobs in the OECD (with 13 per cent), after 'other nations with high casual worker rates including Netherlands (21 per cent), Denmark (15 per cent) and Switzerland (13 per cent)'.3
The core debate at the heart of this section of the report is whether the use of casual work in the Australian labour force is causing greater job insecurity. Therefore, this chapter discusses the casual workforce in Australia and considers:
what constitutes casual employment;
key statistics and trends;
characteristics of casual employees; and
the issue of casual conversion.
The following two chapters, Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, consider evidence on the nature and impacts of casual working arrangements in key sectors such as retail and hospitality, and during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Arguments for and against further reforms in relation to casual employment—along with the committee's views and recommendations on proposed reforms—are covered in the final chapter of this section, Chapter 7.

Reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009

Statutory definition

Prior to March 2021 the term 'casual employee' was not defined in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Fair Work Act). Industrial relations practice, including modern awards, generally regarded casual employment as employment in which there was an absence of entitlement to paid annual or sick leave and a paid loading to compensate for the absence of said entitlements.4
The term also developed meaning through common law. Recent court cases such as WorkPac Pty Ltd v Skene [2018] FCAFC 131 (Skene) and WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato [2020] FCAFC 84 (Rossato) gave regard to the nature of the casual work arrangement at engagement and recognised changes in the employment relationship over time. This meant that a casual employee had the capacity to become 'other than casual' at an indefinite point in time and therefore may be entitled to paid entitlements despite receiving the loading.5
In March 2021, a statutory definition of casual employment was introduced to the Fair Work Act.6 The definition was the result of the Government's attempt to resolve the above-described uncertainty surrounding the then legal framework for casual employment.7
An employee is now considered a casual if they are 'offered employment without a firm advanced commitment to continuing and indefinite work and the person accepts the offer'. That is, the classification of whether an employee is a casual occurs based on the initial offer of employment, and not on any subsequent conduct by the parties.8
To determine whether a 'firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work' exists, the legislation requires a court to give regard to the following considerations:
whether the employer can elect to offer work and whether the person can elect to accept or reject work;
whether the person will work as required according to the needs of the employer;
whether the employment is described as casual employment; and
whether the person will be entitled to a casual loading or a specific rate of pay for casual employees under the terms of the offer or a fair work instrument.9

Suitability of definition

The need for a clear definition was supported by a number of inquiry participants. Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), Mr Paul Zahra, said that the ARA 'welcomed' the definition:
The definition of casual employment addresses some concerns around existing arrangements and elevates the importance of what is agreed between an employer and employee, providing everyone with more freedom to determine the arrangements that best suit their situation.10
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) were 'thankful' for the inclusion of the definition. Deputy Director of Workplace Relations, Ms Tamsin Lawrence, told the committee:
It appeared to be an unlimited number of factors that could be considered at any point in time that was causing the problem for casual employees. There was a concern that the full bench of the Federal Court had handed down a decision that misrepresented the way in which a majority of casuals in this country, who at the time were close to 2.6 million, had been employed and engaged for a couple of decades in which casual employment has been around the same rate.11
While the legislated definition was broadly supported by employer and business groups, unions and other employee stakeholder groups raised concerns that the criteria for judging whether an employee was casual were too limited. The Centre for Future Work characterised the amendment as 'push[ing] the dial in precisely the wrong direction' as it unequivocally confirmed the employer's right to classify a worker as casual, regardless of the nature of the work.12
Similarly, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted that employers can now 'effectively designate what would otherwise be regular full-time and part-time jobs to casual status'.13
The Principal Lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Mr Kamal Faroque, told the committee that many casuals are not 'truly in a circumstance of casual employment':
I've seen many instances of this, quite frankly: people are working 38 hours plus, week in and week out, styled as casuals. They're not casuals. I don't think under any proper analysis of the substance of that relationship are those workers casuals, and they shouldn't be characterised in that way.14
The Victorian State Government submitted that there was 'clearly a need to clarify and codify work status' but that the 'definition of casual employment approved does not meet that objective'. It argued that, in consequence:
… some employers will be even more likely to engage casual workers, knowing that by simply applying the casual label they can shift risk and engage workers on an insecure basis, regardless of whether a permanent employee is required.15
Professor Peetz submitted that:
On the surface, this might seem fair enough, as casual jobs are meant to be flexible, and there cannot be an ongoing commitment. But that is not what the data on 'casual employment' tell[s] us.16
Professor Peetz conducted an analysis of 'previously unpublished data' from the ABS. He argued that, while his analysis is of statistics collected before 2013, 'since the proportion of employees without leave entitlements has been relatively stable since the mid-1990s, the results remain relevant'.17 Professor Peetz found that:
about 33% of 'casuals' worked full-time hours;
about 53% had the same working hours from week to week, and were not on standby;
about 56% could not choose the days on which they worked;
almost 60% had been with their employer for more than a year; and
about 80% expected to be with the same employer in a year's time.
Very few (6% of 'casuals') worked varying hours or were on standby, had been with their employer for a short time, and expected to be there for a short time.
As a result, Professor Peetz concluded that there are 'many reasons to question' the characterisation of employees without leave entitlements as 'genuinely flexible casual' workers, arguing that it 'is better to just call them "leavedeprived" employees'.18

Casual conversion

As part of the 2021 Fair Work Act amendments, all employers must now offer to convert a casual employee to on-going full-time or part-time employment if the employee:
has been employed for 12 months; and
has worked a regular and systematic pattern of hours which without significant adjustment the employee could continue to work as a permanent.19
The legislation contains some exemption clauses. Small business employers are exempt from the requirement to offer conversion as are all employers if they are able to satisfy 'reasonable grounds' for not doing so, based on facts which are 'known or reasonably foreseeable' at the time of the decision not to make the offer. 'Reasonable grounds' include (but are not limited to) cases where within 12 months:
the employee's position will cease to exist;
the employee's required hours of work will be significantly reduced; or
there will be a significant change in the employee's pattern of work (e.g. days or hours the employee is required to work) and those changes cannot be accommodated within the employee's available days or hours.20
Workers who wish to challenge such a refusal can have the dispute conciliated through the Fair Work Commission and/or commence legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, or an eligible state or territory court.21
Since 2017, most modern awards have included a model casual conversion clause—but not all did. It was estimated that, prior to the amendments, approximately two-thirds of casual employees did not have access to casual conversion provisions. To this end, the Attorney General's Department argued that the new provisions 'significantly strengthen conversion entitlements for employees' and further that they will:
… provide a stronger pathway to full-time or part-time employment for casual employees and ensure that employers and employees understand their obligations and entitlements at any point in time.22

Effect on casuals

The legislation was commented on by a broad range of stakeholders, including industrial relations groups, academics, and other stakeholder groups.
The ACCI noted that the casual conversion provisions 'go further than the existing Award conversion provisions'. The previous regimes 'entitled employees to request conversion', whereas the new provisions mean 'employers have an obligation to offer conversion regardless of any employee request'.23
The Australia Institute argued that the provisions will 'not likely lead to any significant reduction in the incidence of casual employment'. It highlighted the exclusionary nature of the legislation, in that a significant percentage of casual workers will be unable to request conversion due to the stipulations placed on eligibility. It further argued that, even if an employee does meet all preceding conditions 'the time and expense involved' in arbitration options will be 'daunting' to most casual employees.24
Ms Donna Tolhurst, a retail worker who gave evidence in a private capacity, said that casual workers do not typically have the financial means to go to court and that they will 'just give up'.25
The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) similarly expressed doubt that the amendments will lead to any meaningful change for casuals, submitting that they are 'less than inadequate'. It pointed out the inconsistency between pursuing arbitration and ultimately pursuing greater job security:
The likelihood of any casuals applying, or having applied for conversion, and having been refused, then pursuing the unreasonableness of a refusal through the workplace dispute resolution process and on to the FWC is vanishingly small if what they are seeking is increased employment security.26
The new legislation rolled back existing casual conversion provisions that were existent in many modern awards, which, in some cases, were superior. National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) Mr Steve Murphy gave evidence on the effect of the new legislation on the existing manufacturing award, calling it a 'significant step backwards' for employees. He explained:
In our award, the conversion was there by election of the worker after six months. The change that was made now delays that for a period of 12 months and makes it much more difficult, particularly for workers who are in the food industry who might be seasonal for 11 months of the year but then there is no work for one month; they now forgo that right to elect to go permanent.27

Likely uptake

The ABS told the committee that at this stage it is too early to assess the effectiveness of the legislation and were therefore unable to provide any data on the uptake rate. However, it did confirm that:
The ABS is in the early stages of developing additional questions for the Characteristics of Employment supplement on casual conversion (converting from casual to non-casual employee jobs with an employer), questions to better understand people working as casuals for longer periods of time.28
To gauge the likely uptake rate of the provisions, the committee asked several inquiry participants to provide numbers of offers made to casuals to convert, and numbers who had actually converted. Some responses are detailed below.

Box 4.1:   Casual conversion—information from employers

Spotless—cleaning contractor
'Spotless confirms that 515 offers were made to casual employees who were assessed as meeting the requirements to convert to full-time or parttime employment in accordance with the casual conversion provisions in the National Employment Standards (NES). As a percentage of Spotless's casual workforce (4.6 per cent) of employees were made an offer to convert from casual to full-time or part-time employment under the NES process and 68 per cent of employees who were offered conversion accepted that offer'.29
PwC—multinational professional services firm
'PwC offered 23 casual employees permanent positions and one employee accepted that permanent position. Since the initial review, ongoing reviews occur monthly. Outside of the casual conversion process described above, an additional 85 casual employees also accepted the opportunity to convert to a permanent position (81 into permanent fulltime positions, one into permanent part time positions) in the calendar year 2021'.30
Australian public education institutions
Just five of 2 300 casual staff at the University of Newcastle were converted to full-time employment in 2021.31
At the University of Melbourne, where during semester up to 47 per cent of the University's academics are casuals, just 18 were offered casual conversions.32
At the University of Sydney, 69 of 4 173 casual staff have been offered a conversion.33
The New South Wales Teachers Federation and Australian Education Union informed the committee that of 7 700 casual teachers at NSW TAFE, not a single casual has been offered a conversion since passage of the casual conversion laws.34 TAFE NSW declined invitations to appear before the committee.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA)—in response to the Financial Sector Union (FSU)
The Financial Sector Union presented evidence to the committee that, of the CBA's 419 casuals, 38 were offered conversion and only four converted to a permanent employment arrangement—a rate of roughly one per cent.
In response, Mr Andrew Culleton, Executive General Manager, Group People Services of CBA clarified that 'our conversion rate for casuals, going back nine years, is actually 45 to 46 per cent. More recently, if you look over the last three-year period, our casual conversion rate is 36 per cent'.35
However, for the past 12 months Mr Culleton said of the 38 people identified to be eligible for conversion, only 4 (roughly 8 per cent) took the offer up. When asked why the rate differed so significantly, Mr Culleton referred to the recent casual conversion provision requirements and said:
I think the interplay is between the fact that we possibly have already gone through this process with casuals, and so this new process from the legislation was an obligation we had to do at the time, and you can't separate it from our process that's part of our enterprise agreement.36
The Financial Sector Union also revealed that just 39 of 466 casual workers at ANZ Bank were offered a casual conversion.37
The National Retail Association anticipated that the uptake of 'employer offers' would likely be low. It reported that many of its members estimate that casual employees 'simply prefer the comparatively higher rates of pay offered by casual employment'.38
The Attorney-General's Department said that as of 3 February 2022, it did not have any data on the number or proportion of casuals who had been offered the opportunity to convert to permanent employment under the new laws. The department did note there had been 21 applications to the Fair Work Commission regarding conversion disputes, as of early January 2022, and zero applications made to the Federal Court's small claims jurisdiction. The department was unable to clarify what proportion of the 21 applications had been for a binding arbitration decision.39
Further discussion and options for reform regarding the Fair Work Act reforms are contained in Chapter 7.

Key statistics and trends

This section provides brief statistics and trends on:
the prevalence of casual work
the demographic characteristics of the casual workforce, including: gender and age composition; migration status; and,
the industries and businesses most affected.
Casual employees comprise a substantial part of the Australian workforce. The ABS provides estimates of this group in its quarterly detailed Labour Force Australia dataset. As of August 2019, pre-pandemic, there were 2.6 million casual employees in Australia.40
As previously stated, the ABS does not actually count casual employees—it counts employees without access to leave entitlements, using this as a proxy for casual employment.41 There are some limitations to this approach as it relies on employees to correctly report their entitlements.
A comparative examination of the ABS Labour Force Data and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA) 2017 by Inga Laß and Mark Wooden indicated that casual employment is the most prevalent type of 'nonstandard employment' in Australia, accounting for almost one in every five workers.42
Consistent with the ABS and HILDA estimates, the OECD's 2019 Employment Outlook report found that one in four workers in Australia were casually employed.43 This is very high by international comparison. Laß and Wooden point out that, in this regard, Australia stands out, 'both because of its relatively large non-standard employment share and because of the high prevalence of casual employment within this group'.44

Is casual work increasing?

The committee received evidence that quantified the rate of casualisation in the Australian workforce and addressed whether or not this rate has been increasing. The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the ACCI, for example, both submitted categorically that the Australian workforce is not being increasingly casualised.45
Figure 4.1 illustrates the casual share of total employees in Australia from 1992 to 2021 as reported by the ABS. When analysing the data, the trend in casual employment depicted appears to contrast with claims that casual work is on the rise in Australia. As a percentage of all employees, casual work increased dramatically from 1992 to 2002, slightly from 23.5 per cent in August 2012 to 25.1 per cent in August 2017 but has since fallen marginally to 24.4 per cent in August 2019, pre pandemic.46
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, casual work decreased significantly to 21.9 per cent. The pandemic's effect on casual work is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 7.

Figure 4.1:  Casual employee share of total employees, 1992–2021

Sources: 1992 to 2003—ABS, Australian Labour Market Statistics, ABS, Canberra, various years, Table 1; 2004 to 2020—ABS, Characteristics of Employment, Australia, ABS, Canberra, December 2020, Table 1c.3; 2021—ABS, Labour Force, detailed, ABS, Canberra, October 2021, Datacube EQ04 (original data).

Figure 4.2:  trends in the number of casual and permanent employees,

Sources: 2004 to 2020—ABS, Characteristics of Employment, ABS, Canberra, December 2020, Table 1c.3; 2021—ABS, Labour Force, detailed, ABS, Canberra, October 2021, Datacube EQ04 (original data).
When compared to permanent employment, from 2004 to 2012, casual employment grew more slowly than permanent employment, but from 2012 to 2017 this trend was reversed, with the growth in casual employment maintaining an annual average growth rate of 2.9 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent for permanent employment.47
Laß and Wooden noted in their research that 'arguably the most striking feature of the trend in the casual employment share is how little has changed since 2001' but concede that in recent years it has been rising, 'albeit modestly'.48
Dr Elsa Underhill, an academic from Deakin University, told the committee that whilst 'the percentage of casuals seems to have stabilised', the 'composition' of casual employment has not. Specifically, people who previously would have been employed as a permanent worker are now continually employed as casuals:
So casual employment, in a sense, has become more acute even though the numbers may not reflect that.49


Gender and age

Casual employment is often seen as an entry point into the workforce, as such young people form a significant share of the casual workforce.50 In 2016 the allage average for casual work was 25 per cent. However close to 76 per cent of workers aged 15 to 19 were employed in casual roles, along with almost 41 per cent of workers aged 20 to 24.51
Today's casual workforce shows a similar age split. As at August 2020:
40.1 per cent of casual workers were aged 15 to 24 years—compared with only a 9.7 per cent share of permanent employees.
53.7 per cent of all employees aged 15 to 24 years are casuals—compared to 15.3 per cent for those ages 25 to 44 and 16.0 per cent for 45 years and older.52

Figure 4.3:  Permanent and casual employees by age, August 2020

Source: ABS, Characteristics of Employment, Australia, ABS, Canberra, using TableBuilder.
The incidence of casual employment is higher among females than males. In 2019, 26 per cent of all female employees were in casual jobs compared with a corresponding figure of 22.5 per cent for males. Whilst females have persistently represented a larger proportion of the casual workforce, this gap has gradually been narrowing—illustrated in Figure 4.4.

Figure 4.4:  Casual employee share of total employees by gender, 1992–2021

Sources: 1992 to 2003—ABS, Australian Labour Market Statistics, ABS, Canberra, various years, Table 1; 2004 to 2020—ABS, Characteristics of Employment, Australia, ABS, Canberra, December 2020, Table 1c.3; 2021—ABS, Labour Force, detailed, ABS, Canberra, October 2021, Datacube EQ04 (original data).
Contributing to this trend is the strong growth in female permanent part-time employment which has increased a remarkable 172 per cent between 1992 and 2013, compared with growth in female casual part-time employment which increased 44 per cent over the same duration. Both trends have remained consistent to the present day.53 The NFAW submitted that this difference could be accounted for by the fact that 'part time work [is] less likely to be available in male dominated than female dominated or mixed occupations'.54
The increase in male casual employment on the other hand has likely been caused by the combination of increasing casualisation of traditional industries such as construction and manufacturing, and more men seeking employment in service industries, which are characterised by casual work, to supplement full-time earnings.55
Women aged 15 to 34 were the most likely to be employed casually, at 36.3 percent, compared to men, where those aged 65 years or older were most likely to be employed casually, at 38.1 per cent. 56

Migration and visa status

Australia has one of the highest temporary worker migration rates of any of the world's democracies—in pre-pandemic years varying between 8 and 10 per cent of the labour force. In 2019, 48 per cent of workers on temporary visas were full-time employees with the remaining 52 per cent employed in casual and part-time roles.57
Unfortunately, it is difficult to exactly quantify the number and percentage of migrants employed in casual roles. However, it is possible to infer that the rate of casualisation across this cohort is relatively high. For example, temporary visa holders are predominantly employed in hospitality, aged-care and agriculture, which are all highly casualised sectors.58 Some visa conditions also incentivise casual work due to caps on the legal amount of hours that are allowed to be worked; such as for international students, who according to their visa are legally only allowed to work up to 40 hours per fortnight.59

Industries and businesses most affected

Casual workers are most highly concentrated in low-wage sectors, but they are now increasingly found throughout most industry sectors.60 A breakdown of casualisation by industry was submitted by Ai Group (Figure 4.5 below). The hospitality and retail sectors employ by far the largest number of casual workers—together accounting for almost half of all casual employees.61 Although the proportion of workers who are casual is also very high in agriculture, arts and recreation, and administrative services.

Figure 4.5:  Number and share of casual employees, Feb 2021

Source: Ai Group, Submission 77, p. 7.
It is worth noting that casual work is not the domain only of low-skilled, lowpaid occupations. The broader education sector in Australia relies heavily on casual and fixed-term employment. In Victoria, for example, a record 68.7 per cent of staff were employed as casuals or on short-term contracts in 2020.62
There is also a significant difference in the rate of casualisation based on business size. In 2018, over 80 per cent of casuals worked for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs):
Over 51.4% of casuals work for small businesses with less than 20 employees;
Over 30.7% of casuals work for businesses with 20-99 employees; and
Less than 17.9% of casuals work for businesses with 100 or more employees.63

Extent of job insecurity for casual workers

It is not possible to strictly measure whether casual work is insecure. However, evidence received by the committee regarding the common characteristics of casual workers and individual submitter testimonies support the proposition that casual workers are indeed more insecure.
HILDA tracks a number of criteria that are useful for assessing workers' feelings about the security of their employment.64 In 2015 it found that casual workers were:
'slightly more satisfied' with their level of pay than permanent employees;
'less satisfied' with their level of job security;
'less satisfied' with their 'hours worked';
'less satisfied' with their level of access to training and skill development; and
almost twice as likely to be looking for another job as permanent employees.65
The committee received 60 submissions from individuals who described various experiences with insecure work. The submissions from casuals were at odds with the virtues of the 'flexibility' of casual work. Examples of these submissions are outlined in Box 4.1 below.

Box 4.2:   Casual worker testimonies

Of the 60 submitters:
22 indicated that they 'have not had access to paid leave even though [they] would like it.'
16 indicated that they 'had [their] hours or pay cut because [they have] stood up for [themselves] in the workplace'.
'Brett'—comments on the fallacy of flexibility in casual work
'It is so infuriating to hear business lobbyists and certain media types continually lie that the majority of workers somehow want the "flexibility" of "casual" work. Casualization and labour hire are a blight on the Australian society and our once proudly held notion of a "fair go"'.66
'Dave'—had a negative experience with casual work
'I now see casual employment as an attempt by big business to create second class, landless, citizens'.67
Kristie—a full-time casual teacher for 6 years
'Teachers, with degree qualifications, are working day to day casual or on temporary contracts for literal YEARS on end, not knowing what we are doing from one day to the next. Hopefully we get a contract, and then we spend time fighting others for our jobs each year, or with the everlasting threat of the permanent position we're covering going to someone else because of the weird, nepotistic way our system works. As casual teachers, we only have two pay grades, and while the casual rate is good, we are restricted to the school terms as to days we are able to work, and then we need to be engaged for every single available day to reach anything like a decent yearly salary.'68

Casuals earn less

The lack of paid leave entitlements for casual workers contributes significantly to the precarity of their employment. Despite that fact that casual employees are supposed to receive loadings of 25–30 per cent to compensate for a lack of leave provisions, casual employees earn significantly less on average than permanent employees. That is, they earn both a lower weekly wage and lower hourly rates.
The OECD, for example, reports that there are marked wage gaps between workers on temporary or casual contracts and those on otherwise comparable 'permanent' employment contracts in almost all countries for which there are suitable data.69
Figure 4.6 below provides data on median hourly earnings from 2004 to 2020 for employees with, and without, paid leave; and Figure 4.7 below charts the median hourly wage gap between permanent and casual employees over the same period. Hourly earnings provide a better comparison than weekly earnings, as casuals typically work fewer hours.

Figure 4.6:  Median hourly earnings, 2004 to 2020

Source: ABS, Characteristics of Employment, Table 1b.2 (Parliamentary Library calculations).

Figure 4.7:  Median hourly wage gap between permanent and casual employees, 2004 to 2020

Source: ABS, Characteristics of Employment, Table 1b.2 (Parliamentary Library calculations).
The data shows that, in August 2019, median hourly earnings for permanent employees in Australia were $35.50. For casuals they were $26.30; a difference of $9.19 per hour.70 In addition, Figure 4.7 shows that the hourly wage gap between permanent and casual employees is widening, having grown from $4.08 per hour in 2004 to $10.09 per hour in 2020.
The NFAW submitted that casual loadings do not provide 'adequate compensation' for a lack of leave entitlements, referring to Fair Work Commission findings that such loadings do not take into account a range of 'detriments which the evidence has demonstrated may attach to the absence of such benefits', such as:
going to work sick;
not taking leave due to fears about endangering future employment;
the inability to 'properly balance' work, personal and caring responsibilities;
last minute changes to working hours;
'sudden loss of what had been regular work', with no notice;
the 'lack of a career path';
reduced access to training and lower workplace participation;
'poorer health and safety outcomes'; and
an 'inability' to secure a home loan or other finance.71
In a report on casual employment, originally published in November 2020, and submitted to this inquiry, Professor Peetz contended that casual loadings do not 'actually guarantee [casual workers] a higher hourly rate of pay'.72
Professor Peetz' research pointed to 'a wage penalty' for lowwage casual in Australia, who are generally offered lower base-rates than permanent employees, 'given their skills, experience and the like':
This may reflect illegal underpayment by some employers who decline to pay the casual loading. Or they may be legally paid the loading but be placed on a lower base pay (perhaps no more than the award rate) by employers than they otherwise would be. The latter is consistent with, but not proven by, the fact that (amongst non-managerial adult employees) 38% of employer-described 'casuals' are paid only the award rate, while this is the case for just 12% of other employees.73
Analysing data from multiple ABS employee surveys conducted between 2006 and 2013,74 Professor Peetz reported that less than 50 per cent of 'casual' employees surveyed75 reported that they received a casual loading. A further 13 to18 per cent of those surveyed 'did not know' if they received a casual loading.76

Casuals are disempowered

Far from providing employees with flexibility and agency, the committee heard evidence that casual work promotes disempowerment.
According to Professor Peetz, 'low power' is the key feature in the profile of an insecure employee, and:
… the underlying power of workers has decreased substantially, and this decline in power is equivalent to a loss of control and a rise in insecurity: an increase in control for one party leads to an increase in insecurity by the other party.77
Professor Peetz argues that this is the case with casual workers, who he characterised as 'cheap, stable, disposable and easily controlled', particularly in their relationship with their employers. The uneven power dynamic emboldens employers' ability to indiscriminately 'hire and fire'. 78
The Victorian Government submitted that casual employees have little agency regarding their own working arrangements for fear of penalisation from management:
Concern about reductions in shifts can prevent casual workers from raising concerns about health and safety and underpayments or asking for flexibility in their working arrangements. Rostering arrangements can be used as a penalty for raising such issues, including rostering across greater numbers of days, at unfavourable times or for shifts of unfavourable duration.79
This concern was also relayed to the committee by Mr Darcy Moran, a casual who has worked in the hospitality sector for 15 years. Mr Moran underscored the helplessness innate in casual work:
The precarious nature of the work makes it extremely hazardous for employees to challenge inept, corrupt or abusive managers. When you're a casual employee, you don't need to go through a dismissal process; you just stop being rostered, which means you don't have reasonable recourse and you don't feel that you can invoke regulation or support.80
The ACTU asserted that such disempowerment is further intensified by the fact that casual work is often experienced by those in our workforce with the least bargaining power—women, young people, and migrants. These demographics are less likely to be aware of, or to have the means to enforce their rights and entitlements.81
Miss Jorja Hickey, who gave evidence in a private capacity, agreed that casual work allows employers to take advantage of vulnerable cohorts. Young people, for example:
… don't understand what they are entitled to, what award they should be on, if superannuation is actually being paid into their account, or if tax is being deducted from their pay. Securing a job is difficult, and even when you are employed you are taken advantage of.82
Dr Katy MacDermott who gave evidence on behalf of the NFAW said that women in precarious work are 'often the victims of power imbalance' and can become entrenched there because of it:
People in precarious and insecure work tend not to have any power; they tend to be on the wrong end of that. That is a self-perpetuating mechanism. As you've noticed, once you become a precarious worker, you tend to be recycled in that position again and again because it's very difficult to move structurally up into the system.83
Casual employment also makes it difficult for workers to take part in industrial organising.84 The Centre for Future Work noted that only 4 per cent of casuals are union members, compared with 14 per cent of employees overall:
And where employment is precarious, it becomes more difficult for workers to report wage theft. This is because it is harder to organise in many precarious contexts, making industrial support and advocacy less available, and because casual workers can be let go more readily, discouraging workers from speaking up.85
Other consequences of casual employee's low agency include higher risk of sexual assault, harassment, and wage theft, as well as lower occupational health and safety outcomes—all of which are discussed further in Chapters 5 and 6 of this report.

  • 1
    Emeritus Professor David Peetz FASSA, Submission 88, p. 5.
  • 2
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 5.
  • 3
    Nassim Khadem, Australia has a high rate of casual work and many jobs face automation threats: OECD, 25 April 2019,, Original data: 'Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Employment Outlook 2019', (accessed 18 January 2022). Figures rounded down to the nearest percentage point.
  • 4
    Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, Explanatory Memorandum, p. vii.
  • 5
    Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, Explanatory Memorandum, p. vii.
  • 6
    The amendments were introduced as part of the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.
  • 7
    Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, Explanatory Memorandum, p. iv.
  • 8
    Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), s. 15A(1).
  • 9
    Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), s. 15A(1).
  • 10
    Australian Retailers Association (ARA), 'ARA welcomes industrial relations reforms, with a hardfought win on casual employment', Media Release, 21 December 2021, (accessed 10 January 2021).
  • 11
    Ms Tamsin Lawrence, Deputy Director, Workplace Relations, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Committee Hansard, 21 April 2021, p. 13.
  • 12
    The Australia Institute, Centre for Future Work (Centre for Future Work), Submission 41, p. 3.
  • 13
    Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Submission 98, p. 7.
  • 14
    Mr Kamal Faroque, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Committee Hansard, 20 April 2021, p. 59.
  • 15
    Victorian Government, Submission 16, p. 28.
  • 16
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 5.
  • 17
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 5.
  • 18
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 6.
  • 19
    Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), s. 66AA.
  • 20
    Attorney-General's Department, Department of Education, Skills and Employment and Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Submission 75, p. 26.
  • 21
    Attorney-General's Department, Department of Education, Skills and Employment and Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Submission 75, p. 26.
  • 22
    Attorney-General's Department, Department of Education, Skills and Employment and Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Submission 75, pp. 25–26.
  • 23
    ACCI, Submission 71, [p. 18].
  • 24
    Centre for Future Work, Shock Troops of the Pandemic: Casual and Insecure Work in COVID and Beyond, October 2021, p. 7.
  • 25
    Ms Donna Tolhurst, Private Capacity, Committee Hansard, 13 April 2021, p. 47.
  • 26
    National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW), Submission 11, pp. 30–31.
  • 27
    Mr Steve Murphy, National Secretary, Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), Proof Committee Hansard, 3 November 2021, pp. 8–9.
  • 28
    ABS, Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Sheldon, 22 November 2021 (received 12 January 2022), p. 2.
  • 29
    Spotless, Answer to Questions on Notice, 8 December 2021, Canberra, [p. 2].
  • 30
    PwC, Answers to questions on notice, public hearing, 8 December 2021, Canberra and Answers to written questions on notice from Senator Sheldon (received 20 January 2022), p. 1.
  • 31
    Dr Damien Cahill, Secretary, NTEU NSW, Proof Committee Hansard, 7 December 2021.
  • 32
    Dr Julie Wells, Vice-President, Strategy and Culture, University of Melbourne, Proof Committee Hansard, 3 February 2022, p. 11.
  • 33
    Anna Patty, 'Sydney University denies full-time work to thousands of casuals', The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 2021, (accessed 3 February 2022).
  • 34
    Mr Angelo Gavrielatos, President, NSW Teachers Federation, and Ms Susan Hopgood, Federal Secretary, Australian Education Union, Proof Committee Hansard, 3 November 2021.
  • 35
    Mr Andrew Culleton, Executive General Manager, Group People Services, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Proof Committee Hansard, 8 December 2021, p. 35.
  • 36
    Mr Culleton, CBA, Proof Committee Hansard, 8 December 2021, p. 40.
  • 37
    Ms Angela Budai, National Policy Officer, Finance Sector Union of Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 8 December 2021, p. 4.
  • 38
    National Retail Association, Submission 29, p. 6.
  • 39
    Ms Lace Wang, Assistant Secretary, Safety Net Branch, Employment Conditions Division, Attorney-General's Department, Proof Committee Hansard, 3 February 2022, p. 18.
  • 40
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'COVID-19: Impacts on casual workers in Australia—a statistical snapshot', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2019-20, p. 1, (accessed 10 January 2022).
  • 41
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 5.
  • 42
    Inga Laß and Mark Wooden, 'Trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment in Australia', Journal of Industrial Relations 2020, Vol. 62(1), pp. 3–4, (accessed 4 January 2022).
  • 43
    OECD, 'OECD Employment Outlook 2019', The Future of Work, 25 April 2019, p. 60, (accessed 4 January 2022).
  • 44
    Laß and Wooden, 'Trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment in Australia', Journal of Industrial Relations 2020, Vol. 62(1), p. 26.
  • 45
    ACCI, Submission 71, p. [8]; Ai Group, Submission 77, p. 6.
  • 46
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Recent and long-term trends in the use of casual employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 24 November 2021, Canberra, p. 12, (accessed 10 January 2022).
  • 47
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Trends in use of non-standard forms of employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2018-19, p. 4, (accessed 23 September 2021).
  • 48
    Laß and Wooden, 'Trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment in Australia', Journal of Industrial Relations 2020, Vol. 62(1), p. 13.
  • 49
    Dr Elsa Underhill, Private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 13 October 2021, p. 3.
  • 50
    Victorian Government, Submission 16, p. 20.
  • 51
    The National and State Youth Peaks, Submission 63, p. 1.
  • 52
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Recent and long-term trends in the use of casual employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 24 November 2021, Canberra, pp. 20–21.
  • 53
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Recent and long-term trends in the use of casual employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 24 November 2021, Canberra, p. 13.
  • 54
    NFAW, Submission 11, p. 9.
  • 55
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Recent and long-term trends in the use of casual employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 24 November 2021, Canberra, pp. 1–2.
  • 56
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Recent and long-term trends in the use of casual employment', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2021-22, 24 November 2021, Canberra, p. 13.
  • 57
    Migrant Workers Centre, Submission 26, p. 13.
  • 58
    Australian Institute of Employment Rights, Submission 6, p. 14.
  • 59
    Migrant Workers Centre, Submission 26, p. 14.
  • 60
    Associate Professor Angela Knox & Associate Professor Susan Ainsworth, Submission 35, p. 1.
  • 61
    The incidence of casual work in the hospitality and retail sectors is expanded upon and discussed in Chapter 5.
  • 62
    NFAW, Submission 11, p. 11
  • 63
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Characteristics and Use of Casual Employment in Australia', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2017-18, 19 January 2018, Canberra, p. 10, , (accessed 10 January 2022).
  • 64
    NFAW, Submission 11, p. 14.
  • 65
    Geoff Gilfillan, 'Characteristics and use of casual employees in Australia', Parliamentary Library Research Paper Series, 2017-18, 19 January 2018, Canberra, pp. 13–14.
  • 66
    Brett, Submission 149, [p. 1].
  • 67
    Dave, Submission 140, [p. 1].
  • 68
    Kristie, Submission 143, [p. 1].
  • 69
    Irma Mooi-Reci and Mark Wooden, 'Casual employment and long-term wage outcomes', Human Relations, Vol. 70(9), p. 1065, (accessed 10 January 2022).
  • 70
    Note: Data for 2019 is used as it likely to provide a more reliable indication of trends. This is because the 2020 figure is distorted by the JobKeeper payment.
  • 71
    NFAW, Submission 11, p. 28.
  • 72
    Appendix 1, Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 30.
  • 73
    Appendix 1, Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 30.
  • 74
    For a full breakdown of the methodology, see Appendix 1, Professor Peetz, Submission 88,
    pp. 30–33.
  • 75
    Employees without leave entitlements.
  • 76
    Appendix 1, Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 34. Results varied between surveys, with the average figure being around 15 per cent.
  • 77
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 15.
  • 78
    Professor Peetz, Submission 88, p. 8.
  • 79
    Victorian Government, Submission 16, p. 10.
  • 80
    Mr Darcy Moran, Member, Hospo Voice, Committee Hansard, 20 April 2021, p. 26.
  • 81
    ACTU, Submission 98. p. 6.
  • 82
    Ms Jorja Hickey, Private capacity, Committee Hansard, 20 April 2021, p. 21.
  • 83
    Dr Kathy MacDermott, Member, NFAW, Proof Committee Hansard, 16 September 2021, p. 39.
  • 84
    Centre for Future Work, Shock Troops of the Pandemic: Casual and Insecure Work in COVID and Beyond, October 2021, pp. 16–18.
  • 85
    Centre for Future Work, Submission 41, p. 7.

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