Employers and unions across the country have applauded the government’s JobKeeper temporary workplace flexibilities which enabled employers to stand down workers and cut hours while receiving the wage subsidy.
The findings of an independent review, conducted by Nous Group and tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, found that three out of four employers who accessed JobKeeper had used at least one of IR flexibilities.
According to Nous, employers used the directions and agreements in combination to achieve the adjustments necessary. In total, 70 per cent of surveyed employers invoked the directions, with those to reduce an employee’s hours or days being the most commonly used.
Directions to employees to work a reduced number of hours, not work on a day or days they would usually work, or to work for fewer hours on a given day, were used by 41 per cent, 30 per cent and 28 per cent of employers, respectively. Directions requiring a change of duties or location of work were used less frequently, and directions requiring a full stand-down were used the least.
The review also found that agreements under the temporary provisions were used by a total of 41 per cent of employers, and most frequently to ask employees to work on days and times different to their ordinary days.
Overall, the findings revealed that an overwhelming majority — between 84 and 98 per cent depending on the specific direction or agreement — saw the provisions as “important” or “essential” to maintaining operations through the pandemic.
In a statement issued by the Attorney-General’s office, the government pointed to feedback it has received from both employers and unions to justify its extension of the reforms for struggling businesses for a further six months.
Mr Christian Porter explained that the unions have acknowledged the job-saving element of the reforms, noting that employers were able to relocate available hours more equitably among staff, rather than standing down some employees and not others.
“When the pandemic began, it quickly became clear that the Fair Work Act did not have the requisite level of flexibility built into it to enable struggling businesses to quickly, effectively and with certainty make necessary changes to their operations such as requiring staff to work from different locations or to perform different duties,” the Attorney-General said.
“Likewise, the stand-down provisions within the act were also very narrow and did not clearly support the ability to reduce employee hours to match the JobKeeper payment, which was vital for those businesses that had been forced to close or were experiencing significant turnover reductions.
“The temporary JobKeeper IR provisions gave businesses that flexibility, enabling them to quickly adapt to changing conditions and stay connected to their workforce, ensuring they would be ready to bounce back when conditions improved.”
He also revealed that the total number of disputes and requests for assistance raised with the FWC and FWO were relatively few.
By late July, the FWC had received 633 JobKeeper-related dispute applications, of which only 184 were heard before the commission or proceeded to conciliation or mediation.
According to the review’s findings, employees who lodged disputes at the FWC were mostly seeking an amendment to a direction or agreement made under the provisions, whereas employers’ disputes typically related to situations where an employee did not wish to comply with a direction or agreement.