Labor under pressure to back long service leave changes being considered in many states

Federal Labor is under pressure to get behind changes that would let workers transfer their long service leave entitlements from job to job.

The Australian Greens have joined with the union movement and public policy experts in advocating for a national portable long service leave scheme. But employers have warned such a scheme would impose big costs on companies and could see wages, benefits and work hours slashed.

While portable long service already exists in some sectors, namely construction and cleaning, it is not widespread. The Victorian government recently announced a state-based inquiry into portable long service leave but the Greens and ACTU are pushing for a national inquiry.

The Greens sought to set up just such an inquiry last year but Labor sided with the Coalition to vote against it.

But spurred on by Victoria’s move – as well as the ACTU’s campaign and supportive research by the McKell Institute – the Greens have decided to try again.

Lower house Greens MP Adam Bandt has written to opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor asking for Labor’s support to set up a Senate inquiry when parliament resumes next month.

“Two crossbench Senators have already indicated their support and I believe Labor’s backing will see the inquiry established,” Mr Bandt says in the letter.

Advocates believe everyone should continue to receive entitlements like long service leave despite changes to the employment market that force people to work a high number of jobs with different employers.

The latest research shows that under the current system only a quarter of Australian workers will stay with the same employer for  10 years, meaning most  people never get access to long service leave.

But Labor appears resistant to such a national portable scheme. A spokeswoman for Mr O’Connor said only that Labor is “committed to working with state and territory governments to achieve a national minimum standard for long service leave to form part of the National Employment Standards”.

The McKell Institute, a progressive think tank, says a portable long service leave system would be of great benefit not only to employees but also to employers, government, the community and economy more generally. It argues workers would be more productive and less likely to have accidents or get sick if they get a solid mid-career break.

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