Concealed costs of casual workforce

By Jane Garcia

Australia has experienced an increase in the number of workers employed on a casual or temporary basis, but employers should beware of the growing international research linking increased risk of illness and injury to these forms of employment, according to research sponsored by Sydney law firm Bartier Perry.

The Hidden Health and Safety Costs of Casual Employment report was based on an extensive literature review of the OHS outcomes of employing casual workers (from Australian and overseas), relevant policy documents, agency and government reports and inquiries.

Author Maria McNamara, a PhD candidate with the University of NSW’s Industrial Relations Research Centre, found casual workers face a greater risk of being injured compared to permanent employees. The reports says, “Emerging evidence indicates that casual working arrangements and job insecurity are associated with adverse OHS outcomes such as increased fatalities, illnesses, occupational violence and psychological distress, decreased reporting propensity, fewer training and career opportunities, as well as inferior knowledge/compliance with OHS entitlements, standards and regulations”.

Ms McNamara told Government News not only did she find casual workers were much more prone to accidents, injuries and fatalities, but the shorter the worker’s contract, the greater the risk.

“A greater amount of accidents happen on the first day or two of a person’s employment so employers should be aware of induction and training,” she says.

“If you just have a temp or a casual worker in for a day, it’s important to consider that they may need training in what they’re supposed to do or they may need to be aware of who they can go to if they need help.

“There have also been a number of cases in recent times where casuals have had pretty serious injuries and in court the judge has deemed that lack of appropriate supervision and induction has been the problem. They’re not told about the potential risks of where they’re working and aren’t aware of them, whereas permanent employees would know about these risks."

One of the most surprising findings of the literature review, according to Ms McNamara, was the impact of ‘presenteeism’ on organisations. She says because casual workers do not receive sick pay or holiday pay, they feel they have to show up to work even when genuinely ill.

“They evaluate how sick they are versus the income they lose and so they’ll show up to work while they’re sick,” Ms McNamara says.

“They end up infecting other workers and making other workers sick. This happens with permanent workers as well… but casual workers are much more prone to this.

“Out of the $250 billion due to lost productivity in the United States in a 2004 study, $180 billion was due to presenteeism. They also found it was 7.5 times greater than absenteeism costs.

“It is a really hidden cost of casual employment because it is extremely difficult to measure: casual workers are there and you assume they’re being productive when actually productivity levels are way down.”

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