Aust casual employment claim mostly true

(Australian Associated Press)


AAP FactCheck Investigation: Has the level of casual employment in the Australian workforce not changed for two decades?

The Statement

“The claim that the workforce is now excessively casualised is simply not true. The level of casualisation hasn’t changed for about 20 years.”

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council of Australia chief executive. October 31, 2019.

The Verdict

Mostly True – Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.

The Analysis

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott says trade unions have an important role but has taken issue with what she calls “overstatements” of trends in Australia’s workforce composition.

In a speech at Melbourne’s La Trobe University on October 31, Ms Westacott targeted the focus of unions on levels of casual work in Australia, saying: “The claim that the workforce is now excessively casualised is simply not true”. “The level of casualisation hasn’t changed for about 20 years,” she said. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the claim that there has been no change in the level of casual work in Australia for approximately two decades.

Ms Westacott made the claim as part of a speech titled, “Do trade unions help or harm Australia’s economy”. The speech outlined the BCA’s vision for the roles unions and business must play to improve Australia’s economy and strengthen support for the most vulnerable in society. [2]

Ms Westacott described herself as a supporter of unions and the role unions have in ensuring the wellbeing of society. While she took issue with what she described as “a short term campaigning focus” by unions and “the risk of overstatements of important trends”, Ms Westacott said there were important issues concerning underemployment, the so-called gig economy, and the rise of part-time work. [2]

Casualisation and “insecure work” are contested issues in Australia, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) claiming in 2018 that insecure work is rising and is “the biggest issue facing Australian workers”.[3]

At the time of publication the ACTU were unable to provide AAP FactCheck with a definition of “insecure work.” However in 2012 the ACTU commissioned an independent inquiry into insecure work, which was defined as “that which provides workers with little social and economic security, and little control over their working lives.” Indicators of this included unpredictable, fluctuating pay; irregular and unpredictable working hours and inferior rights and entitlements. [4]

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says “one of the main indicators for casual employment is whether an employee is entitled to paid leave, such as paid sick leave or paid annual leave”. [5]

Ms Westacott’s statement is supported by a January 2018 Parliamentary Library report, which states that from 1996 to 2016, the casual employee share of total employees increased “marginally” from 24 per cent to 25 per cent. The same report notes that “use of casual employees in Australia grew most strongly from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s”, increasing from around 13 per cent to 24 per cent. [6]

A December 2018 Parliamentary Library report, by the same author, states that casual employees comprised 25.1 per cent of total employees in August 2017 and 24.6 per cent in August 2018. [7]

The report states: “Claims have been made by some economic commentators and unions about the growing casualisation of the workforce and disproportionate growth in non-traditional or non-standard forms of employment. These claims are not supported by the latest data. While there have been periods where growth in casual employment has been stronger or weaker than permanent employment over the past 14 years, the casual share of