In the ongoing saga of casual versus permanent employment, and whatever may exist in between, the Fair Work Commission just added another chapter by recently deciding that modern awards should contain a mechanism for casual employees to elect to convert to full-time or part-time employment.

As part of its four-yearly modern award review, the FWC agreed there was a need for a `conversion' mechanism for particular casual employees on the basis that, by remaining casual, the employees miss out on part-time or full-time benefits such as personal and annual leave.

The FWC's decision referred to data showing 29% of casual employees work full-time hours and 60% of those employees had been working regular shifts for 6 months or more. That data indicates there's a large number of not so `casual' casual employees out there.

The FWC proposed a draft model conversion clause allowing casual employees with 12 months' continuous service and who are working regular casual shifts to request they convert to part-time or full-time employment.

Under the model clause, an employer can refuse that request if:

  • it would require a significant adjustment to the employee's hours;
  • the employee's position will cease to exist (and the employer knows or reasonably foresees that is the case);
  • the employee's hours of work will significantly change or be reduced in the next 12 months;
  • some other reasonably foreseeable ground (which is reasonable...) to deny the request exists.

For employers hoping that the proposed change will go unnoticed by their casual staff, the model clause also requires employers to provide all casual employees (whether they become eligible for conversion or not) with a copy of the casual conversion clause within the first 12 months of employment.

The FWC is currently considering further submissions on the issue but after this decision, the introduction of a casual conversion clause in modern awards is not a matter of `if' but `when'. While we doubt it will happen this year, look to the start of next calendar or financial year.