Coronavirus crisis: Fair Work Commission backs greater flexibility on annual leave payments

The Fair Work Commission has made a provisional ruling.

The Fair Work Commission has made a provisional ruling. Photo: AAP

Thousands of Australian workers are set to get access to up to two weeks’ unpaid leave if they are required to self-isolate due to the coronavirus.

The Fair Work Commission has also provisionally ordered that workers on 103 modern awards – covering such sectors as hospitality, clerical, retail and cleaning – be entitled to greater flexibility to take accrued annual leave at half pay.

The proposed variations would operate until June 30.

The commission is keen to get moving on the change, closing the submission period on April 6.

If no submissions are received opposing its view, the commission will determine it immediately. Otherwise a telephone hearing would be held on April 8.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter says it would give employees and employers a greater ability to manage the impacts of the virus.

“This reflects a key change already endorsed across key industry sector awards including restaurants, hospitality and the clerks’ private sector awards,” he said.

Modern awards cover about 20 per cent of all employees in Australia.

The government is expected to confirm to the commission that the new $1500-a-fortnight JobKeeper payment will be available to employees on unpaid leave, provided the employee and employer in question meet the eligibility criteria for the payment.

Bruising impact

A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found half of all businesses had already experienced an adverse impact as a result of COVID-19 while 86 per cent of businesses expected to be impacted in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the Morrison government has backed an industry call for the annual wage review to be delayed.

It was due to be completed by June 30, but the government argues more reliable economic data will be needed for the Fair Work Commission to make an informed decision.

The government has already deferred the federal budget until October.

“In light of rapidly evolving events relating to the coronavirus pandemic, the government’s position is that the commission should utilise any available mechanisms that enhance its ability to consider all economic data and other information relevant to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic when making its decision,” the government said in its submission.

The commission also has the ability under “exceptional circumstances” to defer the start of an order if it chose to go down that path.


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