Last year there was a considerable delay in hiring Christmas casuals due to the lockdowns and uncertainty of whether retailers would be open at all. So, what will it look like this year?

Well, tis the season to be jolly because this Christmas is set to be busy thanks to the lift in lockdowns and rise in vaccination rates. Consumers are eager to come out of hibernation and spend big at their favourite retailers, according to Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index.

As we are only a few weeks away from Christmas, how prepared is your team to withstand the increase in foot traffic and demand? On top of that, the last 12-months has seen significant changes to legislation on casuals. In this article, I share some common questions and answers regarding Christmas casuals.

When should I start hiring Christmas casuals?

No one wants to miss out on a good sale, and likewise, employers don’t want to miss out on getting the best talent.

Casual positions typically get filled throughout November, but this year is different, so it’s advised to start now. Big retailers like e-commerce giant Amazon are running massive recruitment drives for 1000 casuals. JB Hi-Fi is recruiting around 1500 casuals, while Coles has more than 7000 positions across all of its divisions. Woolworths has 1000 vacant casual positions, while Big W is looking for more than 3500.

This means it may take a little longer to recruit because you are competing for talent against these large retailers. Another thing to factor in is forecasting the number of casuals to hire isn’t as simple as looking at the figures from previous years.

For example, the additional physical distancing measures and other COVID-safe measures could mean a re-jig to the operations of the floor for efficiency. Longer operating hours and increased foot traffic while balancing COVID-safe measures may be challenging.

Many retailers like Aldo have used technology in their operations to create a positive buying experience. Each sales associate is equipped with a mobile device to check inventory and summon runners in the storeroom to bring out the shoes. But importantly, using technology like this helps to minimise the contact and spread of infection.

How much are casuals paid?

Casual employees are entitled to a higher hourly pay rate (casual loading) than full-time or part-time employees because they don’t get personal or annual leave entitlements.

Often Christmas casual workers are under 18 years with different pay rates depending on age and Award. Each Award may have specific requirements, so it’s important to check which Award your casual applies to. The Fair Work Ombudsman website has a handy pay calculator and award finder tool.

Do I need an employment contract for casual employees?

It’s recommended to put one in place because it clarifies their rights as a casual employees. If the casual is only employed for the Christmas period, the contract should clearly define the fixed terms of employment.

It’s also not uncommon for retailers to keep their Christmas casuals as regular casuals once the Christmas season is over. But note — employers must be aware that a casual employee who works on an ad-hoc basis has different entitlements to one that has worked regularly for at least 12 months.

If you decide to change their employment from casual to part-time or full-time, make sure you have an updated employee agreement outlining the employment relationship appropriately.

Keep tabs on how people are feeling

Whether your employees are casuals or not, we’ve had a pretty shocking two years. The pressures of getting Christmas shopping done and maintaining physical distancing and check-in requirements impact the overall experience. Equally, employees may feel stress when dealing with frustrated customers and increased wait times. Retail managers and supervisors should continually check on one another to see how everyone is doing. Casual employees have a shorter notice period, so recognising their contribution and creating inclusive and welcoming environments is a sure-fire way towards a successful Christmas period. 

And lastly, workplace relations has changed a lot this year, especially with the nature and rights of casual employment. If you are ever unsure about your obligations, a quick call with an HR Consultant or employment lawyer can make a big difference.

Jessica Bilston-Gourley is founder and director of Positive HR.