Present tense: Good news for casuals?

The Full Bench of the Federal Court has handed down a significant ruling, which may bring real benefits for long term casual employees. In Workpac v Skene, the Court ruled that truck driver Paul Skene, employed as a casual under a labour hire arrangement, was entitled to be paid accrued annual leave upon termination.

This decision is significant because until now, it was always thought that a casual employee was not entitled to any paid leave, in line with the relevant provisions of the Fair Work Act. However, the Skene decision throws this into doubt, particularly for casual employees who have been employed on a ‘regular and systematic’ basis for a long period of time (Skene himself was employed for about two and a half years).

At the print deadline for Present Tense, the IEU was still considering the potential implications of Skene on casual employees in the post-secondary education sector, but given the widespread use of long term casual arrangements in the sector, there may well be potential gains for members.

IEU Assistant Secretary, Carol Matthews, noted that Skene may well have some application to employees in the post secondary sector. “Most enterprise agreements envisage that employees can only be engaged as casuals if they are employed for a short period or on an irregular basis. However if that is not the case, following this decision, casual employees may have an entitlement to annual leave under the Fair Work Act,” Matthews said. This means that there could be an avenue for casuals to claim annual leave in some circumstances.

Members should not expect any immediate change in this area, and, like any legal principle, a particular employee’s rights to this will depend on the facts of the individual matter. Nevertheless, on the face of it, it does appear to be a significant win for casual employees.

Agreements update

Your Union continues to negotiate with several colleges for renewed enterprise agreements, with several more in the pipeline. Discussions have been in train with Navitas English since May, and the early talks have been productive. It has been agreed that the existing agreement needs a tidy up, so the parties have worked through the whole agreement, simplifying language, updating references, fixing typos, and including any legal requirements. With that out of the way, it does appear that the parties are some way apart on some key issues, but your Union remains hopeful that an agreement can be finalised this year.

Your Union is also in the early stages of negotiations with Embassy English, Taylors College, and UoW College, and will soon start discussions with Insearch UTS, Access Language Centre, Sydney College of English, and Universal English.

Enterprise agreements typically include provisions which are superior to those in the award (eg higher salaries). The Fair Work Act contains provisions which allow employees to compel their employer to start bargaining for an agreement. To find out how this might work at your college, contact your Union, the IEU.

International student numbers

Australia continues to benefit from the upheaval caused by both Brexit and Trump, with a recent paper from a UK think tank on higher education that Australia was on the brink of jumping Britain into second place (behind the US) for international student arrivals. The Centre for Global Higher Education has noted that the UK’s ongoing Brexit related closing of the doors to international students has seen overall numbers drop appreciably, while Australia is being seen increasingly as a safer and more desirable location to study.

Figures from the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training (DET) show a significant rise in overall student arrivals in 2018 of about 11% overall. The bulk of these are in higher education and in VET, while ELICOS has been stable, and the future is looking bright for the post secondary education sector.

Kendall Warren