“While we appreciate the efforts and commitment that casual employees are displaying, the nature of their employment is clear and the department is not in a position to afford them a paid leave entitlement.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since introduced new 14-day quarantines for all people entering Australia from overseas starting from Monday.
“Those persons who come back and present with symptoms, they will be directed through the Australian Border Force to be given protective equipment,” he said during a press conference on Sunday.
The lack of sick leave has concerned some casual airport border force workers, with a Sydney-based staff member who wished to remain unnamed telling The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that they believed they would end up with the virus.
“We’re on the frontline of this — many of us are casual employees. It’s frightening,” they said.
“We are really worried about getting paid [if we catch coronavirus],” the employee said.
“It is almost inevitable that we are going to be the ones that get sick as we are the ones dealing with it.”
The worker was also concerned about the level of cleaning and the quality of masks and disinfectant being used at the airport.
In 2018, there were 850 casual employees in the Department of Home Affairs, including non-ongoing, intermittent and irregular staff. This includes some staff who screen cargo.
All casual workers in Australia are able to apply to Centrelink for the government’s Sickness Allowance, a Newstart-level amount which will soon be rolled over into a JobSeeker payment.
Under Newstart, the maximum payment for a single person without children is $279.50 a week.
Senator Keneally said coronavirus “can’t tell the difference between a casual or a fulltime worker and casual ABF officers should have access to the same coronavirus sick leave as their full-time counterparts”.
“Casual Australian Border Forcer officers are working on the frontline of our border, namely airports across the country, helping protect Australians from coronavirus,” she said.
“Scott Morrison and [Home Affairs Minister] Peter Dutton can, and should, fix this problem today.”
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.