In what is surely good news for anyone who is forced to eat their own shoes to survive if work capriciously decides not to give them shifts one week, ACTU secretary Sally McManus has announced that in 2018 unions will be pushing to curb the casualisation of the workforce in Australia.

The unions are seeking changes to the Fair Work Act that include a clear definition of what constitutes ‘casual work’ and provisions that would allow employees to automatically switch to part-time after six months of regular casual work.

McManus told The Australian that these changes would be a priority over the coming year:

The issue of casualisation, the casualisation of jobs, is going to be a key focus of the whole trade union movement next year in 2018. One of the key things we want to change for working ­people is turning around or reversing the casualisation of jobs.

That goes to properly defining what a casual is, which is a real weakness in the Fair Work Act where there is no proper definition and there used to be. That’s allowed employers just to call people casuals even though they have been in ongoing employment for a long time.

What we would want is the commonly understood and old definition of what casual employment is: if you have a reasonable expectation of ongoing work, you have been working regular shifts, you shouldn’t be defined as a casual, you should have all the rights of permanent employees.

According to The Guardian, shadow workplace relations minister Brendan O’Connor has said that Labor is committed to fighting the rising casualisation trend:

Too often now we see people working as their main job in what employers are deeming to be casual, even when they work for years on end. For that reason, Labor is committed to examining this.

The ACTU is arguing that a large number of workers in Australia have been working regular hours for long periods of time without being granted any of the protections or leave allowances granted to permanent employees.

Stephen Smith of the Australian Industry Group dismissed the proposal and said that many people prefer to be casual:

The proposition is ridiculous. The Fair Work Act was im­plemented by the former Labor government. It increased union power in more than 100 areas and markedly increased employee entitlements.

Changes are needed to the act to increase flexibility, not to remove essential existing flexibility. Casual employment suits a very large number of people, who prefer this form of employment because it gives them the flexibility that they want or need.

Seeing as the changes would only afford casual employees the option to voluntarily switch to permanent, I can’t imagine this will be too much of a problem, if it is the case.