ACT government asked to consider providing casual workers with sick leave

An ACT Labor MLA has asked the government to investigate providing casual workers with sick leave and carers’ leave.

Michael Pettersson today introduced the motion to the ACT Legislative Assembly, saying it would better protect the most financially vulnerable people in the Canberra community.

“This step is good for both workers and workplaces,” Mr Pettersson said.

‘These workers are just as valuable’

Lilitu Babylon runs a shop in Gold Creek and pays her casual staff sick leave.(ABC News: Donal Sheil)

Though not required to by law, Gold Creek retailer Lilitu Babylon is one business owner who has already decided to pay her casual staff sick leave and holiday pay.

Ms Babylon, who has operated her business for 18 years, said she believed people should be paid a “living wage”, including casual workers.

“Casual workers, even though they may get paid slightly more per hour than somebody with permanent [work]they also have a lot of things that can happen to them that leave them kind of high and dry,” Ms Babylon said.

“I just decided quite a while ago that these workers are just as valuable as a permanent worker and that they should be paid that as well.”

Ms Babylon said adding the leave had not been financially damaging to her business, which specialises in crystals and Pagan supplies, and that by offering the stability of sick leave, she believed it was easier to retain staff.

“Because my shop is kind of a specialist shop, I rely on people who know what the shop’s about,” she said.

“I need people working here who have that knowledge.”

‘Am I really that sick? I’ll just go in and see how I feel’

Jack Busch works as a casual in a call center and said casual staff members had to “toss up” whether to go to work or stay home when they were slightly unwell.

“I’ve definitely been in that situation before where money is tight and you’re going, sick or not,” he said.

A man sits in front of a jersey.
Jack Busch works as a casual in a call centre.(Supplied)

Mr Busch said if anyone was too badly sick they should not go to work.

“People are going to notice and you don’t want to make anyone else sick, but there are definitely times where you think: ‘Can I get away with it? Am I really that sick? I’ll just go in and see how I feel. If I make it through the shift, happy days.””

But Mr Busch added that while paying casuals sick leave sounded like a good idea, he was concerned about the move might entice more people to stay at home when they were not unwell.

“I think it’s a really good idea, but I also think that it could be taken advantage of by some people,” he said.

“I think that giving people money to stay at home sick will just entice them more to stay at home and do nothing and not work.

ACT Labor MLA wants to fix ‘flawed’ system

Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson
Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson says there is a detrimental impact to the economy when people work when sick.(ABC Canberra: Donal Sheil)

The Victorian Government recently announced it would trial providing up to five paid sick days each year for casual workers at the national minimum wage.

Mr Pettersson said he was looking forward to seeing the results of the trial.

In introducing the same legislation in the ACT, Mr Pettersson said the pandemic had exposed casual workers to risk. He said casual jobs were becoming same longer-term roles, and that those workers deserved the workplace rights and entitlements as permanent employees.

He said people going to work while sick was also costly for society and the health system.

“So we’ve stepped up and said, ‘You know, there’s a reason we created sick leave, it’s time everyone had sick leave’.”

He described the current system of pay and benefits as “fundamentally flawed”.

“Introducing sick and carer’s pay for casuals and contract workers does not fix the problem of casualisation. But it does give relief to those employed casually that will be able to access sick and carers pay,” he said.

Opposition Spokesman for Jobs and Workplace Affairs Peter Cain said the Canberra Liberals were not opposed to looking at whether sick leave for casuals could work, but said the party wanted a “full-committee inquiry”.

“It gives the whole community an opportunity to put in a submission; most of those will be publicly available. It also gives the opportunity for public hearings,” Mr. Cain said.

Mr Cain said he had not heard from businesses that leave for carers was an enormous priority, instead of saying that many business owners he had spoken to wanted to “get back to the ‘new normal'”.

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