Fair Work implements additional measures to protect Modern Awards in light of COVID-19

The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) have determined by hearing on 8 April 2020 to amend modern awards to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic. This comes following the provisional views of the FWC released at the start of the month detailing their views on the impact of COVID-19 on employment arrangements.

What variations are being made?

The Commission have implemented a temporary amendment to modern awards which gives employees access to “pandemic leave” and offers them the ability to take annual leave at half pay. The variations apply to a number of awards with identified exceptions including: maritime, construction and mining-related awards. The FWC have assessed the operation of these awards as not being as adversely impacted as the others.

Consistent with the 14-day isolation period mandated by the Government, employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are normally required to work on-site will be able to access:

  • 2 weeks “unpaid pandemic leave” (available immediately to full-time, part-time and casual employees); and
  • Twice as much annual leave at half pay instead of the normal amount of annual leave at full pay.

The amendments have been incorporated into the modern awards by way of Schedule, “Schedule X – Additional measures during the COVID-19 pandemic”.  This new Schedule X is in operation from 8 April 2020 until 30 June 2020 (or longer if the FWC so decides).

Why have the FWC made this call?

 The FWC have identified a “regulatory gap” for employees who are required to either quarantine or self-isolate themselves. Whilst some employees who have contracted or have been exposed to COVID-19 are able to access personal/carers leave, this leave entitlement does not fully and comprehensively protect every employee impacted by COVID-19. For example, casual workers are not entitled to paid personal/carers leave and the entitlement is for only 10 days paid leave for each year of service. Many have used some of this entitlement already and for 1-year service employees, this does not cover the additional 4 days of isolation prescribed by the Government.

In addition to their own initiative, the FWC are currently reviewing applications to vary specific awards to allow greater flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Decisions have already been made about the Restaurant Industry Award, Hospitality Industry (General) Award and Clerks – Private Sector Award.

To determine if these new entitlements apply to you, consult your specific modern award. For more information about the changes to modern awards or the role of employers in complying with them, contact Griffin Legal.

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