The Waterfront industry has always had a begrudging acceptance of casuals or seagulls in the industry to fill the arms and legs shortfalls, but in recent times we are faced with employers who see this cancer as the norm and an opportunity to make a fast buck and not be hindered by organised labour.

What is a casual; Legal definition, a casual employee is an employee who works when and if needed, with no expectation of continuing employment. In my view they are working-class people who don’t have much opportunity in the workplace because of a number of things. The perfect prey for the greedy employers who carry very limited contingent liability when it comes to the employment of casuals. These are normally people who think they see a glimmer of hope in terms of permanency but it rarely eventuates.

This growth industry is huge. Let’s face facts.Casualisation is responsible for widespread substandard working conditions such as. No Superannuation, lowering wages, no holiday entitlement (normally built in employer drops hourly rate to compensate), no sick entitlement, no bereavement leave, unacceptable working hours, very limited workplace rights, the inability to question or organise for fear of reprisal, no decent notification and no redundancy or severance pay. No notification of termination or guarantee of re-employment.

Employees on Fixed Term contracts are in my view not much better off than their counterparts on a casual contract. Whilst they bathe in the glory of the conditions during the term of their document it soon comes to an end. Most if not all are very rarely offered extensions to this camouflaged term of employment. When you look at a Casual versus a Permanent the imbalance is despicable to say the least, one with all the benefits and a future, the other left to wallow in the scraps.

The down side for employers is quite obvious; A loss of business confidence the lack of job satisfaction, the suppression of innovation and huge impact on productivity. The medium and long term benefits are not there for employers who grab a quick buck over long term sustainability. Casual work would not have such negative effects if numbers in the workplace where limited and it was a short term bridge to better employment. Unfortunately in our industry this is not the case, casuals become entrenched and spend years trying to impress on employers they have value. I have even heard the term ‘Permanent /Preferred casuals’ used. What the hell is a permanent/preferred casual? I think it sums up the thinking of some of the employers.

Whilst I have to agree there are some employers in our industry that do have principles and pride by having the main core of their workforce as Permanents, it is becoming increasingly hard for them to survive. Ports in this country have company’s onsite that feed off the industry by tendering for contracts based on the 100% usage of casuals and this allows them to tender at hugely reduced costs that the above board companies can only dream of.

It might sound a win win for these predators but the reality is that any profit they initially make will be wiped out when more competitors with the same business ethics enter the Ports. The outcome is reduced wages no guarantees, no permanent jobs and we don’t have to look to far to see what impact this approach has had and is having in our Ports. It is not confined to one Port because the need to compete demands the lowest possible rates and casual flexibilities which drive other employers to soon start making demands on employees and our Union that are ridiculous.
It is hard to resist the line of thinking that these working-class people are treated pretty badly and are indeed the most vulnerable; it is the use of long term casualisation in our industry that needs serious attention from our Union. It has to be stemmed and controlled; this cancer is blooming out of control.

Another suggestion that grates is that casualisation is the price of progress and a condition for economic success and flexibility, well what an absolute crock. The only one in this statement that benefits is the bloody employer. Casuals don’t have economic success, how many of them are financially sound. Casuals don’t have flexibility or security; they grab what ever they can and are told when and how to work.

What allows a system like this to survive and cause no end of suffering to those it directly affects is the disorganisation of labour. It will take a massive struggle and strong leadership to overcome this growth industry and stop the exploitation by these greedy corporate bastards.We must constantly as a Union push to achieve unity in the workplace and break down the barriers that hold casuals back.


Dave Phillips, Socialist Wharfie.


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