With all the measures being put in place by the Federal Government to support business during the Covid crisis it's important to keep track of what's going on. 

Shaun Schmitke, National Director, Safety, Contracts & Workplace Relations informs us about two significant developments involving Modern Awards and the Federal Government COVID-19 JobKeeper wage subsidy package.

Modern Awards

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) made temporary changes to almost 100 Modern Awards, creating two new types of leave arrangements as a means to help employers and employees respond to COVID-19 challenges.

The new leave arrangements involve an ‘Unpaid Pandemic Leave’ and a flexible approach to annual leave. 

  • Unpaid pandemic leave will be 2 weeks unpaid leave if an employee is required, by government or medical authorities or acting on the advice of a medical practitioner, to self isolate and is consequently prevented from working, or is otherwise prevented from working by measures taken by government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Annual leave changes mean instead of an employee taking paid annual leave on full pay, the employee and their employer may agree to the employee taking twice as much leave on half pay.​

The major Construction Awards have not changed at this time as the Fair Work Commission is making the changes in stages, and the changes do not yet apply to every Modern Award. Instead, Master Builders and other employer groups were encouraged to have discussions with building unions.

However, you may be using a non-Construction Award (such as the Clerks - Private Sector Award 2010) which have been changed.

A summary of the FWC decision and changes can be found here including a list of Awards that have been changed.

In a win for Master Builders, the FWC have understood our concern about not being included in the first stage of changes. They have adopted our proposal to put some tight timelines around the discussions they earlier encouraged, meaning there will be some intensive discussions next week with unions about what Award changes might be needed to deal with COVID-19 challenges. Master Builders is to provide a report about these discussions to the Commission by the end of next week. Master Builders National Office is handling these discussions.

JobKeeper changes to the Fair Work Laws

The Parliament has made changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 that will give employers temporary powers to implement flexibility measures in order to save jobs where they are affected by COVID-19.

Note that they will only be available to employers and employees who qualify for the JobKeeper wage subsidy of $1500 per fortnight. The changes will not apply to those who are not eligible for JobKeeper.

Employers who are eligible for JobKeeper will now be given powers to issue directions requiring to employees to:

  • Work reduced hours  or days (a JobKeeper enabling stand down direction)
  • Undertake alternative duties; or
  • Work at an alternate location
  • Request employees to work reduced days or alternate hours of work
  • Request employees to take accrued annual leave; and
  • Agree with employees for annual leave to be taken at half pay

Please note that the Parliament sat late into the night on Thursday to make these changes. For this reason, some key details and regulations which are necessary to properly understand the JobKeeper changes are not yet publicly available. There are as yet no further Government JobKeeper ‘fact sheets’ or similar. We expect more information will be published over coming days

More information on JobKeeper, including existing JobKeeper FAQ’s can be accessed through the Treasury website. We anticipate further information, including the JobKeeper Payment Rules (which prescribes eligibility and record keeping obligations) will be made available over the next few days.

Ends...

Shaun Schmitke

National Director, Safety, Contracts, Workplace Relations

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