Casual hospitality workers in Victoria are among those who will now be entitled to up to five paid sick days per year, thanks to a new scheme from the state Government.

With the pandemic highlighting the importance of not going into work when sick, the Andrews Government says its Victorian Sick Pay Guarantee means casual and contract workers will no longer have to choose between a day’s pay or their health.

Premier Daniel Andrews said: “When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family. The ultimate decision they make isn’t wrong – what’s wrong is they’re forced to make it at all.

“The last two years have shown just how difficult that choice can be for casual workers – so we’re doing what we can to make sure it’s a choice they don’t have to make.”

Occupations included in the first phase include hospitality workers, food trades workers and preparation assistants such as chefs and kitchen hands, supermarket and supply chain workers, retail and sales assistants, aged and disability care workers, cleaners and laundry workers and security guards.

The Labor Government is fully funding the $245.6m scheme over the first two years, which is expected to demonstrate a reduction in workplace injuries and illness, general productivity improvements from healthier workers, and lower staff turnover rates.

The Government will also administer the program directly to workers, minimising the impost on businesses so they can focus on economic recovery.

Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt said: “We need every worker for the recovery of our economy – the best way to do that is through secure work. This scheme will protect more Victorians and give them the support they need when they’re sick or caring for a loved one.”

However the scheme has not been welcomed by all, with Tim Piper, Victorian Head of the peak employer association Ai Group saying the scheme is “notable for the absence of any retraction of its previous announcement that businesses will most likely need to fund the huge ongoing cost once the two-year trial is over, through a levy. The levy would, in effect, be a tax on employment and would be another deterrent to employers investing in Victoria”.

He added: “The scheme is deeply flawed and should be abandoned. The last thing that Victorian businesses need is the prospect of a hefty payroll levy in two years’ time to fund this illogical scheme. The looming levy will kill investment in Victoria and put a hand-break on the recovery.”

In addition Restaurant & Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert said that industry had not been consulted on this and it left many questions that needed urgent answers.

“If casual workers are still being paid casual loading rates, why is the Victorian government topping up for sick pay? A large proportion of Victoria’s hospitality sector are casual workers, and this has been an arrangement that has been mutually beneficial to both employers and employees over a long period of time”, said Lambert.

“Paying both sick leave and casual loading rates at the same time is incredibly unfair for workers that are already under part-time and full-time agreements and has further implications around the nature of flexible working arrangements which will become a bigger part of the Australian economy as time goes on.

“It also raises questions of its compatibility with Federal government mechanisms such as the Fair Work Act. Victoria’s hospitality needs answers now,” he said.

The United Workers Union welcomed the Sick Pay Guarantee scheme, union national secretary Tim Kennedy said it would go a long way to bolstering financial security for casual workers

“If the COVID pandemic has shown us anything, it is that casual, precarious and insecure work has ramifications for the health of the whole community,” Kennedy said.

“Let’s not squander the opportunity to make practical and positive change to ensure a better and more resilient Australia that looks after the very workers who turned up, at risk to themselves and their families over the last two years.”

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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