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Joint Letter: Call for return of Covid IR flexibilities

Business is urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to reinstate the temporary industrial relations flexibilities in the Fair Work Act when Parliament resumes as a means of supporting employers and employees through the country’s latest as well as future lockdowns.

We thank the Fair Work Commission for the invitation to meet yesterday alongside unions and government in response to changing workplace conditions for millions of Australians.

It is clear that the Federal and State Government support measures, while absolutely crucial, are incomplete without temporary flexibilities in the Fair Work Act to allow businesses to operate in and trade out of lockdowns whilst maintaining employment.  Businesses will be able to more readily maintain existing staffing levels if they are supported with the necessary workplace relations flexibilities.

Employers and unions have delivered a constructive, sober, non-partisan approach to dealing with the effects of the pandemic since it started in 2020. We urge Parliament to repeat this cooperative approach by reintroducing Fair Work Act flexibilities as a first matter of business when Parliament resumes on 3 August 2021.

The 2020 Fair Work Act flexibilities were well thought out, contained appropriate safeguards negotiated in consultation with the Union movement, and are already familiar to industry. They included measures to reduce hours, partially stand down workers, perform different duties, work from home or other locations and take annual leave.

The provisions were essential in enabling employers to maintain a connection to their employees through a period when, absent of the provisions, many businesses would have become unviable. An independent review of the Fair Work Act flexibilities showed they had a direct impact on slowing the loss of jobs and decline in wages during the initial COVID-19 economic shock – close to 94 per cent of businesses found the provisions important or essential to maintaining their business operations.

We need these flexibilities urgently reinstated alongside government financial support in order to ensure businesses have the necessary tools available to keep as many employees in jobs as possible.

Reinstating the Fair Work Act flexibilities will enable many employers of hard-hit businesses to help keep staff on and adapt to changing circumstances. Being able to kickstart a business after partial shutdown or hibernation with the same employees on board will make all the difference.

Australia’s industrial relations legislation needs to be part of the solution if financial support packages are to succeed.

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