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Coronavirus exposes the downside of casual work

Coronavirus exposes the downside of casual work

Coronavirus continues to dominate the news cycle. From working at home to cancelling sporting events, there are endless measures we’re being urged to take to avoid contracting and spreading the potentially deadly virus.

One issue brought to light by the outbreak has been the difference between casual and full-time leave entitlements.

This is a good opportunity to assess these differences to consider what is most important.

The Australian government has issued official isolation guidance for people it believes to be at risk of testing positive to Covid-19, the virus’s technical name.

People who have returned from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy are expected to self-isolate in their home or accommodation for 14 days, as are people who came into contact with someone who tested positive.

One Hobart man was instructed to self-isolate but instead worked shifts in food service at a hotel while waiting for his test results. He has since tested positive.

The man received a barrage of criticism for his actions but it should be noted he works in an industry that relies heavily on casual employees.

Without paid leave entitlements, low-income casual workers face something of a dilemma: earn money while putting others at risk or stay home and risk losing money necessary for food, rent and utilities.

As of December 2018, casual employees comprise around a quarter of Australia’s workforce. Millions of Australians are now at risk of going a whole two weeks without pay.

For people who don’t live paycheque to paycheque, the decision to stay home is an easy one, but for Australians who rely on casual wages to make a living, the Coronavirus pandemic poses a significant threat to that.

Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has indicated the greater hourly rates received by casuals compensates for the lack of leave entitlements enjoyed by full-time workers.

It is true that casual loading generally helps to offset the loss of these entitlements but in a rare time of crisis when the government has ordered people to self-isolate, there is very little protection for people who did not anticipate having to stay at home even when they may not be sick.

Woolworths has already announced it will fully compensate staff required to stay home but not every casual worker will be so fortunate.

For those on the lookout for work, now is a good time to consider what is most important. Full-time work guarantees paid leave for times such as this. Casual work, rightly or wrongly, does not.

Many people will not be in a position to choose but for those who are, make a list of priorities.

Do you have a partner and/or a family to care for? Will you cope if you need to go for two weeks without pay?

Coronavirus has changed everyone’s way of life. Sadly, it is the new normal and we need to take it into account for every big decision we make.

For the time being, full-time workers are more likely to cope with the strict requirements of self-isolation. In the short to medium term, securing a position with leave entitlements is going to be an important consideration.