The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has made significant changes to both the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010 (the Clerks Award) and the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 (the Hospitality Award) in response to the threat posed to businesses and to jobs by COVID-19.

Changes to Clerks – Private Sector Award

The Clerks Award covers 1.56 million people (or 14.3% of employees). The majority of those employees have their pay set or underpinned by the Award.

The particular changes of note in the COVID-19 Schedule were:

  • Provision for employers to be able to close down their operations and direct that employees use their annual leave for such close downs up to the total of their accrued leave, and then to go on to unpaid leave for the remainder of the close down
  • Employees can now be directed to perform duties outside the scope of their classification subject to safety, skill and there not being any reduction in an employee’s pay as a result of being so directed
  • Provision for part-time or casual employees working from home by agreement with the employer to be given a minimum of two (2) consecutive hours on any shift, as well as flexibility in the spread of ordinary hours of work for day workers who are working from home
  • Provision for agreements in the workplace to temporarily reduce ordinary hours when agreed to by 75% of full-time and part-time employees, provided that ordinary hours may not be reduced to less than 75% of the ordinary hours that the employee worked immediately prior to the reduction
  • Employers and individuals can agree that employees can take twice as much annual leave as normal to a proportionately reduced rate of pay and further provision to allow an employer to direct an employee to take annual leave that has accrued with the giving of one week’s notice, subject to consideration of the employee’s circumstances.

The changes to the Awards came into effect immediately and will be in effect until 30 June 2020. The parties may apply to extend the provisions.

Changes to Hospitality Award

On 25 March, the Full Bench altered the Hospitality Award by inserting a special Schedule (Schedule L), which provides employers with the ability to implement a number of measures to limit the loss of jobs within the hospitality industry.

Changes of note which were approved by the Full Bench include:

  • The ability of employers to direct employees to perform duties within their level of skill that are outside the usual scope of their work
  • The ability of employers to direct full-time employees to work reduced hours (as low as 22.8 hours per week)
  • The ability of employers to direct employees to take annual leave at 24 hours’ notice, as well as the ability to agree to the taking of double the amount of annual leave at half pay.

Similar changes are in the process of being sought to the Restaurant Industry Award.

The above content is commentary rather than legal advice and was prepared on the basis of applicable legislation, government programs and initiatives that were in place as of the date of publication. Given the ongoing evolution of both the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent consequential changes to the various laws and programs within all Australian states and territories, readers should seek legal advice on the current situation as applicable to their specific circumstances before taking any action in relation to the above.