The FWC decided to extend several important award variations at the last minute.
In June the Fair Work Commission (FWC) announced it would not be extending the Schedule X changes made to 99 COVID-19 impacted awards, or the variations made to the Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards. However, in the final weeks of June, applications were received from various industries urging the FWC to extend the variations past the June 30 cut off.
The FWC agreed to extend some of the variations, however, this was not a blanket extension. For Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards the extension was applied but with some new guidelines on when the variations can be used. As for Schedule X, the FWC decided not to apply the extensions uniformly to account for the varying impact COVID-19 has had on different industries.
Here’s HRM’s breakdown of the recent decisions.
Schedule X extension
Earlier this year the FWC introduced two key features into some modern awards: pandemic leave and double annual leave at half pay. These variations were called Schedule X.
For most of the awards (you can see the full list here) the Schedule X variations have been extended until September 30, 2020. This will align with the proposed end of JobKeeper.
The Electrical Power Industry Award 2010, an award not included in the original variation decision, also had the Schedule X variations applied with the September 30 end date.
For the Fast Food Industry Award 2010, General Retail Industry Award 2010, Hair and Beauty Industry Award 2010, Storage Services and Wholesale Award 2020 – collectively referred to as the Retail Awards – the extension has only been increased only until July 31, 2020.
Two specific awards were singled out for the harsh impact COIVD-19 has had on their respective industries. The Air Pilots Award 2020 had the Schedule X variation extended until December 30, 2020, and the Live Performance Award 2010 was given a 12 month extension to June 30, 2021.
A selection of nine awards, collectively referred to as the Health Sector Awards (full list here), have had the extension applied “until further order of the Commission,” according to the decision handed down by the FWC.
The decision noted that many employees would need to continue accessing unpaid pandemic leave, especially considering the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria. Pandemic leave was the biggest announcement to come from the Schedule X changes and was the one variation that was not similar to the Fair Work changes introduced under JobKeeper.
Along with unpaid pandemic leave, there are two types of sick leave alternatives for people working in Victoria and Queensland.
In Victoria, the state government introduced a hardship fund for certain employees. If employees are diagnosed with COVID-19 or forced to self-isolate workers can receive a payment of $1,500 if they are a casual employee or have exhausted all their sick leave entitlements. Queenslanders have access to a similar payment but only if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
In both states the employees must not be receiving any other benefits or salary supplements, such as JobKeeper, in order to be eligible for hardship fund payments.
Other Award Changes
As HRM previously reported, in April there were three major changes made to the Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards, all designed to give employers and employees more flexibility during the pandemic. These included:
- Greater flexibility in job roles and duties
- Greater flexibility in arranging work hours
- Increased flexibility when it comes to leave
The changes were implemented to give employers breathing room in an extremely uncertain environment. When restaurants didn’t know if they’d be able to open their doors, the variations allowed employers to reduce staff hours, even if they were full time employees. They also gave employers the power to ask workers under those awards to take leave when there was no work available.
The FWC agreed to extend the variations in the clerks award until September 30. The Restaurant and Hospitality award provisions will extend until September 27, however, the variations only apply in certain circumstances, so cannot be used by all employers. The stand out caveat is that the variations do not apply if the business is receiving JobKeeper payments or is eligible for JobKeeper.
New variations have also been implemented into the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020. Unlike the other awards, the FWC did not extend the employer powers of roles and duties in this award, however it did extend the variations in relation to work hours and annual leave, so employers in the vehicle sector can now reduce the hours of full-time and part-time employees.They can also direct employees to take annual leave.
The FWC noted that the combination of bushfires, the pandemic and an economic downturn had greatly impacted the motor vehicle industry and the variations aim to keep people employed during this tough time.
With the end of award variations planned to occur at the same time as JobKeeper payments come to an end, September is likely to be a tough month for Australian employers and employees alike.
Some experts believe hundreds of organisations are existing in a “zombie” state, meaning they’re able to pay their employees through JobKeeper but don’t have a high chance of sustaining this practice in the long-term.e. Even the Reserve Bank of Australia has backed calls to continue financial stimulus beyond the September cut off period to avoid further damage to the economy.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is due to provide an update on a possible JobKeeper extension on July 23.