Casual nurses win right to permanency

Job offer must be made after six months

Casual nurses in NSW have won the right to a permanent job after six months of regular casual work.

The win results from a decision by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission affecting all casual workers in the State.

The Commission’s full bench accepted a secure employment test case mounted by unions against strong employer opposition.

Unions argued that workers have suffered because of a growing trend towards casual employment.

The Commission ruled that employers must offer casuals a permanent job after six months of regular work.

The NSW Nurses’ Association has since varied seven industrial awards to incorporate the decision. The awards cover nurses in the private hospital system including Catholic facilities, as well as aged care facilities and non-government schools.

Conversion from casual to permanent employment is not compulsory. Nurses who prefer long-term casual employment may maintain their status as casuals.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes welcomed the decision and said it signalled a win for the State’s most vulnerable workers.

‘The Commission recognised that some employers are using casual employment to fill permanent positions to avoid meeting obligations to permanent workers,’ Brett said.

‘Permanent employees receive benefits such as annual leave, sick leave, long-service leave, parental leave and family leave that casuals don’t generally receive,’ he said.

‘Having the option to move to permanent hours provides a degree of certainty, knowing you’ve got a salary that will continue for a period of time.’

The Commission denied the unions’ application for a casual employee of a labour hire agency to have the right to elect to become a permanent employee of the company to which he or she has been posted.

However, agency casuals may elect to become permanent employees of the agency after six months’ regular work.

DON welcomes greater choice for casuals

Many aged care nurses employed as casuals to fill permanent rosters are now likely to exercise their right to switch to a permanent position, believes Lucille McKenna, Director of Nursing at Palm Grove Nursing Home in Sydney.

Lucille has worked as a DON for the past 25 years and welcomes the Industrial Relations Commission decision on casual employment.

‘Some aged care providers seem to employ an awful lot of casual people in what are really permanent rostered positions,’ she points out.

‘Some of these nurses have been working the same shift for years with no entitlement to holiday pay, sick leave, long-service leave etc – and they’ve never been offered permanent positions.

‘I don’t really understand why employers do it. They might argue it gives them some sort of flexibility, but it actually puts the employer in an unfair position of power.

‘There’s always a shadow over casuals who can be got rid of at the whim of some manager, even though they might have been in that job for years.

‘My experience is you get much greater loyalty from people when you do the right thing by them, offer them job security and make sure they receive all their rights and entitlements.’

Lucille says permanent, part-time work is already a big aspect of aged care, particularly for mothers with young children.

‘Aged care has provided permanent part-time work to suit mothers’ hours for many years. They receive the same benefits a full-time worker gets on a pro rata basis and they feel more secure in their jobs than the casuals.

‘Of course there will always be a role in the industry for true casuals who don’t want permanent work and are available to fill in for someone who is sick or on leave.’

Lucille hopes the Commission’s decision will provide some protection for casual nurses who may be especially vulnerable to unfair treatment as a result of the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation.

How to convert to permanent work
You may choose to switch to permanent employment after six months of ‘regular and systematic’ casual work.

Generally, full-time casuals have the right to choose a full-time permanent job and part-time casuals, at least a part-time permanent job.

After you have worked as a casual for six months the employer has a further four weeks in which to inform you of your right to convert to permanent work.

If the employer neglects to inform you of this right, you still retain your right to choose permanent work.

Once you receive notice from the employer, or your six months of casual work has elapsed, you may give the employer four weeks’
written notice that you wish to convert to full-time or part-time permanent employment.

If you don’t respond to the employer’s written notice within four weeks you are deemed to have chosen not to take up a permanent job.

After receiving your notice, the employer has another four weeks to either accept or refuse your request, but ‘shall not unreasonably refuse’ in the words of the Commissioners.

If the employer knocks back your request, they must give their reasons and make a genuine attempt to reach agreement with you. Any dispute is dealt with through the disputes settlement procedure of your award.

Once you have converted to permanent work you may only revert to casual employment by written agreement with the employer.

An employer is in breach of the award if they hire and then dismiss a casual employee in order to avoid having to make the employee permanent.