Victoria becomes the first Australian state to pay casual workers sick leave

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a massive part in highlighting the inequalities present in Australia’s workforce. In response, Victoria are planning to roll out sick leave benefits to all casual employees.

In a national first, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that the state’s casual employees will be entitled to sick pay, beginning late 2021 or early 2022. The monumental policy will be rolled out as part of the Secure Work Pilot Scheme, providing casual or insecure workers five days of paid sick leave and carer’s pay at minimum wage.

“Insecure work is toxic. Insecure work isn’t just bad for those who work under those conditions, it’s bad for all of us and we pay a price for the fact that so many people – particularly those who work in public-facing jobs – do not have sick leave,” Andrews told press on Monday (November 24).

victoria casual sick leave
Photo: NCA NewsWire/ David Crosling

The Victorian government’s $5 million, two-year trial comes as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the casual workforce. According to Junkee Media, the pandemic highlighted the shortcomings of our nation’s crumbling employment infrastructure, with many forced to weigh up missing a crucial day’s wage or taking time to care for their health.

“Time and time again we’ve seen the fallout of that — in Hobart, where a casual did several shifts at a hotel despite being told to isolate; in Adelaide, where a security guard from a quarantine hotel went to his second job at a pizza bar while unknowingly infected; and in Melbourne, where casuals feeling pressure to go to work were blamed for helping spread the virus,” Junkee reporter Rachael Conaghan writes.

There are hopes that the introduction of the Secure Work Pilot Scheme into Victoria’s 2020/21 budget will benefit, not only casual workers and their families, but public health as a whole. “You don’t want to be served in a restaurant by someone who is sick,” Premier Andrews added. “You don’t want your elderly parent or grandparent to be cared for in a private aged-care facility by someone who’s sick.”

Although the scheme has already been approved as part of Victoria’s 2020/21 budget, the policy has still accrued its fair share of backlash from some of our favourite upper-class friends. Federal Industrial Relations Minister and hot take king Christian Porter criticised the policy for inciting unnecessary tax on already struggling businesses, with capitalist icons The National Employer Organisation, the Australian Industry Group, and Victoria’s Liberal opposition also jumping on the bandwagon, to no-one’s surprise.

However, for casual workers across the state, this policy is crucial and long-overdue. “Workers cannot be forced to choose between paying their bills and protecting their colleagues, customers and patients,” Federal Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said about the scheme, attacking Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the process. “Whenever we force people to make that choice the community is put at risk.” Treasurer Tim Pallas has also clarified that the trial will initially be paid for by the state government, with any future progression of the program funded through employment levies.