Australia enacts employment award changes to stem job losses in hardest-hit sectors

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) (the Australian industrial relations tribunal) has made significant changes to the Clerks - Private Sector Award 2010 (Clerks Award), the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 (Hospitality Award) and the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 (Restaurant Award). These awards regulate the employment of approximately 2.2 million Australian workers.
The changes have been introduced at almost unprecedented speed and are intended to facilitate flexibility (aimed at preventing further job losses) for certain Australian businesses reeling from the COVID-19 economic fallout.
In summary, the changes insert a new, temporary schedule into each of the Clerks AwardHospitality Award and Restaurant Award operative between 28 March 2020 and 30 June 2020. Broadly, the temporary schedule permits the following:

  • directing employees to do work other than their normal duties. For employees covered by the Clerks Award, this is not to result in a reduction in pay and ‘higher duties’ allowances continue to apply for those covered by the Hospitality Award and Restaurant Award;
  • for employees covered by the Clerks Award, changes to ‘ordinary hours’ where work is performed from home;
  • reducing employees’ hours of work subject to prior consultation, union notification and, for those covered by the Clerks Award, subject to an affirmative vote by impacted staff (of which the FWC must be notified in advance); and
  • directing employees to take annual leave. For employees covered by the Restaurant Award and Clerks Award this includes during a close-down of operations.

The FWC-initiated changes to 103 modern awards (including the Banking, Finance and Insurance Award 2020) are presently being considered. The FWC proposes to introduce temporary measures to vary these awards to provide employees with 2 weeks unpaid ‘pandemic leave’ and permit employees to take twice their accrued annual leave at half-pay. The proposes are listed for an FWC hearing on 8 April 2020. If you require advice in relation to these changes, please contact us. For more insights from Kennedys about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, please see our global covid-19 content hub.