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FWC proposes new measures to keep Aussie in jobs

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
02 April 2020 2 minute readShare
Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission has proposed two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave as well as extra annual leave at half pay, which it believes will benefit millions of Aussies and keep them in jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fair Work Commission revealed on Wednesday it has found a “regulatory gap” limiting the number of employees that can use paid personal/carer’s leave to cover a period of self-isolation.

While some employees who have contracted COVID-19 may have an entitlement to paid personal/carer’s leave under the National Employment Standards, there are millions that don’t, including casuals, the FWC explained.

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“If the employer does not consent, the employee may be placed in the invidious position of either contravening public health directions or guidelines, or placing their employment in jeopardy,” the FWC said in a statement.

In order to fill the gap, the commission has proposed changing 103 modern awards to provide an entitlement to unpaid “pandemic leave” and the flexibility to take annual leave at half pay.

 

By addressing the “regulatory gap”, the commission believes that the new entitlement to unpaid pandemic leave will enable more people to remain in employment.

The changes would mean employees are entitled to two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave if they’re required to self-isolate or are otherwise prevented from attending work by measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the commission, the entitlement would be available to full-time, part-time and casual employees, in full immediately, rather than accruing progressively during a year of service.

The commission has also proposed allowing employees to take twice as much leave on half pay in agreement with their employer.

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“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 commission said.

While confirming that it has considered broader measures to provide greater flexibility, such as the capacity for employers to direct employees to take annual leave, it has adopted a more limited approach at this stage “to provide a quick response to the current crisis and in an effort to attract broad support for the measures proposed”.

Narrow concept 

Commenting on the commission’s proposals, Employsure managing director Ed Mallett said theyre not “widely revolutionary”. 

“It was sort of happening anyway. But what theyre trying to do is just bring in some level of protection or structure for workers,” Mr Mallett said.

He explained that “pandemic leave” is essentially the FWCs label for something that most employers and employees have been doing anyway. 

“Really, all theyre trying to do is to stop the more unscrupulous employers who might be turning around and saying, ‘Dont blame me if youve got to self-isolate. Im going to cut you from my workforce’.

“We havent seen many example of that actually happening. But the Fair Work Commission is coming in and saying if we put a label on it and someone steps out and says, ‘Ive got to self-isolate’, then employers wont be able to fire them for that.”

Mr Mallett concluded that businesses currently have “bigger things to worry about”.

FWC proposes new measures to keep Aussie in jobs
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Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of My Business. 

Maja has a decade-long career in journalism across finance, business and politics. Now a well-versed reporter in the SME and accounting arena, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies and enabling citizens to influence decision-making.

You can email Maja on [email protected] 

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