Being An On Call Casual

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-By Kristy Attard

It is just another typical night in an Australian food factory. The afternoon shift is winding up and night shift will soon take over for another eight hours. The team leader looks over the on call casuals busy at work. There is a decision pending; who will he call back to work tomorrow and who will be left waiting for a call? How will that decision be made? If the leader prefers employing casuals with the same ethnic background as his own, he will. If he prefers employing men rather than women, he will. If he would rather call a married woman back to work tomorrow over a single one, he will make it happen. This frank corruption is happening all over the country this very minute. Welcome to the harsh reality of being an on call casual.

Shady Profits

In the future permanent jobs may just become little more than a fading memory of the past. Even today, many people across Australia are working multiple part time, casual and temporary jobs to earn a living. A large majority of these are through an employment agency. Australia is swamped with thousands of employment agencies, many of which supply workers for the manufacturing industry.

The agency has a simple business plan. Encourage as many people as possible to sign up to work for it. Run applicants through a fast induction process consisting of watching a workplace safety video and filling in paperwork. Send these people to work in factories or warehouses. Charge clients an extravagant hourly rate. A process worker, for example, may earn $22 an hour, with the agency charging the client $35 an hour. The agency takes its share before the process worker has even seen his or her payslip. It is a highly profitable industry and, quietly, an often shady one.

It can be a confusing game to play for an on call casual trying to get regular work. Work agencies in a sense are the puppets of their clients; what the client says goes, often at the expense of its workforce. During the induction process, applicants typically receive a booklet outlining the agency’s zero tolerance policy on issues like abuse, racism, bullying and discrimination. How does this play out in real life? Is the booklet worth the paper it is printed on? Sadly, the answer is often no.

Knockout Bullying

Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society with a fair go for all. However, in many factories and warehouses, the foul stench of racism still hangs in the air. Racism drags down a company like a zombie hanging on for grim life out of a grave. Whether or not an on call casual hears the dreaded ‘wait for a call’ line or the desired ‘come in tomorrow’ from the boss can, sadly, boil down to race. It is about the colour of your skin, the shape of your eyes and what your native tongue is. This is the confronting and unfair truth of the matter. Walk into any factory or warehouse and it’s a strange coincidence that all of the on call casual employees will just so happen to be the same nationality as the boss. Everyone notices, but no one does anything about it… so much for equality.

Workplace bullying has been on the Australian business and media radar in recent years. All too often, tragic stories of people being driven to suicide and workplace massacres flash across TV screens and newspapers. It’s a disgraceful circumstance in Australia; if an on call casual is being bullied or discriminated against based on gender, marital status, race, etc there may be no one willing to listen and change the situation.

Who can on call casuals turn to for support and help if they are a target for bullies? Middle management may be the ones doing the bullying. Union delegates figure the victim will be here today, gone tomorrow, so often don’t bother doing anything. The agency will side up with the client; they have plenty of other workers to fill the job. You may be working at the same place for years as an on call casual and suddenly get the shaft for no reason with no explanation given. ‘Unfair dismissal,’ you cry. Yes, but no one cares. A nasty situation is made worse by the fact that no one is willing to say, ‘Hey, that’s not on,’ and do something about it.

When on call casuals are abused by management it is reflected in the quality of their work. They will still work (while the boss is watching), but it’s a half hearted effort built on the knowledge that they won’t get called in tomorrow anyway so why bother going the extra mile? The attitude sinks down to the level of ‘I’ll just do what I have to, clock off and get out as quickly as I can.’ The situation breeds resentment – ‘I hate this place’ – and jealousy –‘why is she/he getting work over me?’ – which often leads to employees trying to get even with the company. Acts of revenge can range from simply bludging the time away to more serious acts that can cost a company millions – along with its reputation.

Contamination is a major concern with food manufacturers. Product recalls cost time and money and weaken the all important consumer image of a company. It is all too simple for an abused on call casual to exact revenge by dropping a foreign object into a bag of food mix, a conveyor belt, a hopper… the opportunities are endless. An unknowing consumer then purchases the contaminated product and may choke, break a tooth, cut their tongue on the offending object. They sue, the company loses – not only money but its reputation in the process. Yes, there are x-ray machines, metal detectors and cameras employed in Australian food factories to ensure these situations do not arise. However, people usually do their homework beforehand and something might just slip through. It could be a nail, a hair, a chewed up piece of gum; how would you feel finding this in your food?

The best way to guard against acts of revenge by disgruntled on call casuals is to remove the motivation to take revenge. Stamp out the racism, the bullying, and the discrimination that they have to deal with. Just because a worker has the status of being an on call casual, does not mean they deserve to cop poor treatment.

Start Questioning

With all the despair surrounding the issue, what can Australian businesses do to make progress? Start by shining a light on the issue of the unfair treatment of on call casuals and act on it. It is a safe assumption that companies want employees who are dedicated, reliable and have the right attitude. If you are a CEO, ask yourself what you want out of your on call casual staff. Would you like to employ people who are an asset to the company? Do you want them to have a solid work ethic? Are you looking for people with enthusiasm and passion for what they do? If you are nodding your head, start moving in the right direction today by prioritising on call casual staff.

Step out of the office and into the steel-capped boots of an on call casual. See the company through their eyes. Yes, you are incredibly busy and have people in human resources who should deal with this area, but can you afford to be out of touch with what is really going on?

Walk around and ask yourself a few questions. Is the work area safe? Are there hazards present? On call casuals may be unfamiliar with safe work procedures that are common knowledge with permanent employees simply because they are unfamiliar with the workplace. Is the work culture welcoming and supportive? Listen to the way people are communicating with each other. Are they speaking in a positive, friendly manner or are conversations peppered with cursing and racial slurs? This is the impression on call casuals get about the company. Is the lunchroom fit for humans or is it in bad need of an upgrade? Fatigue is a common cause of workplace accidents, and ensuring that employees have a proper lunchroom is a simple but highly effective way to reduce accidents and injuries.

Make a corporate decision to treat on call casuals as if they really belong at the company. When on call casuals are valued by management and treated like humans not numbers, it shows in their work. They have a sense of pride in what they are doing; they will give the job their best shot.

Take the first step today and lead your company toward a better tomorrow. Make on call casuals proud to be a part of your business. Do everything you can to empower them so they will contribute to the success of the company. Make sure your workplace is socially and ethically responsible. It is a move that will elevate Australian businesses to new heights and improve the lives of thousands of people across the country.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:31 PM AEDT