Businesses are being hit hard by the measures to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus in Australia. The economic impacts of this pandemic are unprecedented in our recent history and the government is responding with multiple stimulus packages and support measures in its efforts to manage the severity of these impacts.

The most recent economic response has been the JobKeeper payment designed to encourage employers to retain employees through this period with the help of a fortnightly $1500 subsidy. You can read more about the JobKeeper payment here.

Variation to the Award to Allow for Flexibility During Covid-19

In addition to these stimulus packages, the Fair Work Commission made a determination on 28 March 2020 to temporarily vary the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010 in order to allow flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. The application to vary the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010 was filed jointly by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group (AI Group), with the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Services Union (ASU).

With the award covering people in administration or other general office roles, a large number of businesses will be supported to retain jobs and the ongoing viability of their business through these changes.

Operational Flexibility

Operational flexibility means the employer may direct employees to perform any duties within their skills and competencies that may be outside of their usual classification;

Minimum shifts and Span of Ordinary Hours

Minimum shifts for part time and casual workers have been reduced to 2 hours;

For employees working from home by agreement with their employer, the span of ordinary hours of work has been changed to between 6am and 11pm Monday to Friday, and between 7am and 12.30pm on Saturday, meaning penalties, loadings and allowances are applied differently;

Reducing Hours

Individual employees and their employer may agree to reduce the employee’s hours, for example from full time to part time, and there are no strict parameters around the number of hours that can be reduced.

However, for a collective workforce, if at least 75% of permanent employees in the workplace agree to a reduction in hours, then employees in that workplace or section of the business, may have their hours reduced by not more than 25% of their usual hours. Hourly rates don’t change but the weekly wage would be reduced by the same proportion as the hours worked.

It’s important to note that during this period, leave entitlement should be accrued at the same rate as the employee’s ordinary hours before any reduction was made. If employees belong to the Australian Services Union, there are additional requirements.

Direction to take Annual Leave

Usually an employer is required to give at least 4 weeks’ notice of the requirement to take leave, for example during a seasonal shutdown or Christmas period. With these changes, employees may be directed to take any accrued leave with only 1 week of notice required, or even less by agreement with the employee. Where the business may face a temporary close down, any employees having used all accrued leave may be given unpaid leave.

These changes to the Clerks award will apply from the 28th of March until at least the 30th of June 2020.

If facing a temporary business slow down or closure, there are many options available to employers to help manage their employee obligations. in addition to providing paid and unpaid leave to employees, there may be reasonable grounds to stand down employees without pay or make certain roles redundant. The JobKeeper payment as part of the stimulus package may help some employers retain employees through this period. It’s important to consider the most appropriate options for your business before making any decisions.

Need advice or additional information on your obligations as an employer at this time? Get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or call us on 08 6150 0043.