COVID 19 Fairwork Changes – what they could mean for your business


Let’s be upfront; things are pretty chaotic right now. For those in payroll and HR, when I speak to you, your world seems flat out at the moment.  Fairwork, as always, are doing what they can to accommodate the dynamic situation we find ourselves in and are publishing regular updates to their COVID 19 Fairwork Changes pages.  Among these updates there have been specific rulings from the FWC in regard to COVID-19 which are relevant from 28th March until 30th June 2020 and they are summarised under Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws on their site.

I suspect that a few rulings will require small updates to your workforce management system to keep up to date for the three months that the changes are in effect. It will also impact those businesses who complete a better off overall test (BOOT).

If you are struggling with the BOOT test and this will add additional pressure, or you don’t have access for clerical staff to enter timesheets and need a system to do it. Reach out to me directly and I’ll be happy to help.

Can I ask an employee to work a lower grade under the COVID 19 Fairwork Changes?

Yes, you can! This is excellent news for flexibility of work, but as always there are rules that go with it based on the award. Firstly, the employee must be qualified to do the job, and it’s got to be safe for them to do it. Doesn’t matter, if it’s the Clerks, HIGA or RIA – the same overarching requirements apply.

If I am working a higher grade under the clerks’ award for more than one day, you need to pay me at the higher classified rate. If I’m on the HIGA or RIA and work less than 2 hours at a higher rate, you need to pay the employee based on what they worked. If it’s 2 hours or more, you need to pay the higher rate for the day.

There’s always an exception (it is Fairwork, right?). This doesn’t apply for F&B attendants grade 2 or 3 within the HIGA. Don’t forget if the employee works a lower grade; you have to keep paying at the higher rate. The employee can’t be disadvantaged.

Has the Minimum Engagement Changed under the COVID 19 Fairwork Changes?

For the clerk’s award, yes, but only if the employee works from home and only if they agree. It’s now 2 hours but get the agreement in writing.

Has the Span of Hours changed under the COVID 19 Fairwork Changes?

Yes, but only for the clerk’s award. If the employee is working from home, the times are now between 6 am, and 11 pm Monday to Friday and 7 am to 12:30 pm Saturday. These need to be agreed, as well.

Can I reduce an employee’s hours temporarily under the COVID 19 Fairwork Changes?

Under the clerk’s award, temporarily reducing hours for permanent employees to not less than 75% of their full-time, ordinary hours or agreed part-time hours. You need to follow some strict steps which are below:

  1. If the employee is a union member, let the union know about the vote
  2. Provide the employees with the contact details for the union, if they want to contact the union
  3. Email about the vote, providing employees private email address. This is so the commission can email the COVID-19 Information Sheet
  4. Hold a vote at least 24 hours after steps 1 -3

For the RIA and HIGA, employers can, under the COVID 19 Fairwork Changes, reduce permanent hours of work by an average of between 22.8 and 38 ordinary hours per week OR 60% to 100% of guaranteed hours per week for part-time employees. You still need to follow the award consultation rules about changes to the roster and tell the union, if staff are in the union.

If you have concerns about any of this, take a look at the Fairwork site – there is plenty of detail and regular updates provided here : Fairwork Australia – Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws.  or you can contact me directly and I will be happy to discuss your options and thoughts.

In my next post I hope to cover off the currently proposed new Pandemic Leave


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