Victoria's Sick Leave Plan Sparks Federal Debate

Victoria's Sick Leave Plan Sparks Federal Debate
Medical workers evacuate a resident from the Epping Gardens aged care facility in the Melbourne suburb of Epping on July 30, 2020, as the city battles fresh outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (WILLIAM WEST/ Getty Images)

Victoria's plan to provide sick leave for some casual workers has sparked national debate over the risks of insecure employment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state government will offer casual workers in some sectors up to five days' sick leave as part of a two-year trial, with an industry levy flagged as a longer-term funding mechanism.

Victoria's scheme targets casualised sectors where the virus has spread across the country, including aged care, cleaning, hospitality and security.

Federal Labor seized on the announcement to attack the Morrison government over inaction on supporting casual workers.

"Workers cannot be forced to choose between paying their bills and protecting their colleagues, customers and patients," the opposition's industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said.

"Whenever we force people to make that choice the community is put at risk."

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said Victorian businesses had already been through their hardest year in the past 100.

"Why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?" he said.

Porter said a better approach would be to make it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent roles, which is expected to be included in federal industrial relations reform.

South Australia last week scrapped a short-lived lockdown after an infected hotel quarantine worker on a graduate visa lied about having a second job at a pizza shop.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said it should be a national ambition to lower the rate of insecure employment.

"Unfortunately insecure work has essentially wrecked the economy this year," she told ABC radio.

"It's the thing that has spread the virus, it has unfortunately spread the virus also through nursing homes as well, and I think this is a big wake up call to us."

She defended the Adelaide pizza shop employee, saying the country abandoned visa workers during the pandemic.

Australian Industry Group - one of the country's biggest national employer associations - believes the Victorian proposal is deeply flawed.

"The proposal is another move away from nationally consistent employment entitlements by the Victorian government and will cause confusion for employers and employees," chief executive Innes Willox said.

Thousands of Australians travelled interstate on Monday as borders reopened and other coronavirus restrictions eased amid continued low infection rates.

Victoria has now gone 24 days without a coronavirus infection or death.

NSW became the first jurisdiction to open to all states and territories after lifting travel restrictions with Victoria.

However, Queensland remains closed to people from Sydney.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce argues Queensland is setting the bar too high on relaxing border restrictions.

The airline sold 25,000 seats in 48 hours after the NSW-Victoria border announcement earlier in the month.

By Matt Coughlan, Daniel McCulloch