Victoria to trial sick leave for casuals

Benita Kolovos
·3-min read

Casual workers in aged care, cleaning and hospitality will be paid up to five days of sick and carer's leave as part of a two-year trial by the Victorian government.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday announced the state budget will provide $5 million to set up the Secure Work Pilot Scheme, which will begin in late 2021 or early 2022.

Workers who qualify will be entitled to up to five days' pay at the minimum wage when sick or taking care of someone else who is sick.

Mr Andrews said the government would focus on sectors with high rates of casual employment, including aged care, cleaning, hospitality and security. Supermarket workers may also be eligible.

He said the coronavirus pandemic shone a light on some of the darkest cracks in the nation's economy and society, none more so than insecure work, which he described as "toxic".

"So many workers have to choose between going to work sick or feeding their kids, paying their rent, paying the bills, surviving, getting to next week," Mr Andrews said.

"That's not something that we should settle for, I think we're better than that. I think that we can build a system that is fairer and safer."

He said the leave will not accumulate, as it does for part-time or full-time workers, but it will benefit all Victorians.

"You don't want to be served a meal in a restaurant by someone who is sick," Mr Andrews said.

"You don't want your elderly parent or grandparent to be cared for in a private aged-care facility by someone who's sick."

The pilot scheme will be fully funded by the state government, but if it becomes an ongoing program, a "modest" industry levy will be charged.

The premier said this was "some years off".

He also refuted some federal government ministers, who have argued casuals receive a 25 per cent loading to make up for benefits such as sick or annual leave.

"The notion that (casual workers) are salting away ... large sums of money so that if they don't work they do get paid, that does not make sense," Mr Andrews said.

"It's not happening."

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said Victorian businesses had already been through their hardest year in the past century.

"Why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?" he said.

Mr Porter said a better approach would be to make it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent roles.

State opposition Leader Michael O'Brien described the levy as a "tax on jobs".

"Small business is on its knees. Daniel Andrews needs to help small business, not slug them with a new tax," he said.

The Australian Industry Group said providing casuals with a separate entitlement would be "double-dipping".

But Mr Andrews offered to partner with any other states interested in adopting the scheme.

Hospitality worker Yasmine Sharaf said she had gone to work countless times when unwell.

"If I could afford it and if I could avoid going work I always would make that decision but it's often a choice that's not in the worker's hands," she said.

"This will really give us a bit of power back in that regard."