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Insights

Background

Australia has a rich and unique history of industrial awards. The Australian Industrial Relations Landscape has developed over the last 120 years. The pace of change has increased exponentially. One of the last activities of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission was to simplify and streamline the number of awards in Australia. Australia went from having over 7,000 awards to around 120 modern arounds.

The COVID-19 virus has placed stress on all aspects of Australian society. The Fair Work Commission has responded to these challenges in a number of different ways.

On 28 March 2020 the Fair Work Commission published a number of variations to the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010. These provisions enabled:

  • operational flexibility;
  • changes to minimum shift lengths;
  • ordinary hours of work for employees working from home;
  • agreed temporary reduction in ordinary hours;
  • annual leave (enabling leave to be taken on half pay); and
  • a reduced notice period for close downs.

The Hospitality Industry General Award 2010 has also being varied.

More fundamentally, the Fair Work Commission is currently considering whether 103 modern awards should be varied. Here is a link to the FWC statement.

Submissions are being sought. The awards that are not being varied at this stage are in the construction industry, the maritime sector and the mining and resource sector. In the absence of opposition, it is likely that the modern awards would be varied as recommended.

The main two changes are to insert:

  • unpaid pandemic leave of up to two weeks; and
  • enabling annual leave to be taken at half pay.

It seems likely that these changes will be inserted into the modern awards on Wednesday 8 April 2020.

The pace of the change is remarkable. Traditionally, award making and variation to awards takes months and sometimes years. It is due to the Fair Work Commission, and unions and employer groups that the awards are likely to be varied so rapidly.

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