7th April, 2020

Why employers need to know about the temporary changes to the Clerks Award

Changes to the Clerks Award have been introduced to provide clarity and options for both employers and employees – here’s why it’s important.

With upheavals now commonplace within Australian business communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, old approaches to workplace laws are failing to provide much needed support.

To add flexibility during this tough time, the Fair Work Commission have introduced a temporary alteration of the Clerks Award to give business owners more options for managing their business.

How these changes benefit employers and employees

The changes to the Clerks Award benefit employers in diverse ways, with the aim to address the unique needs of different industries where appropriate.

Andrew Rich, principal lawyer at Slater and Gordon, illustrated how these alterations benefit employers.

“The changes to the Clerks Award apply to all employees covered by the Award. This means all employees engaged wholly or principally in clerical work, including administrative duties of a clerical nature,” said Rich.

However, there are exceptions to these changes:

  • Employees in the state industrial relations system are not eligible under these changes, State Government employees and Local Council employees (except in Victoria)
  • Employees of sole traders, partnerships and other unincorporated entities in Western Australia
  • Clerical employees who are covered by another award, including employees covered by various industry awards
  • Employees covered by an enterprise agreement

For employers managing a qualifying workforce, there are five distinct benefits that can be immediately implemented.

1. Re-allocating skilled employees where appropriate

Financial difficulties have made the reorganisation of employees an unfortunate, albeit necessary, step for many businesses.

In the event that key staff are laid off, a need to cover these skill gaps is crucial for many businesses to keep operating.

Although certain tasks were previously prohibited for employees not fulfilling specific Award criteria, Rich describes how changes to the Clerk Award address this need.

“The changes empower employers to direct employees to perform any duties within their skill and competency, regardless of their classification under the award, provided that the duties are safe and the employee is licenced and qualified to perform them.”

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2. Reduction of part-time hours

With hours in workplaces already being spread thin, laws related to minimum hours for part-time employees have also seen a necessary reworking.

“Employers are entitled to roster part-time and casual employees who are working from home for a minimum of two consecutive hours’ work, rather than the usual requirement of three consecutive hours,” said Rich.

3. Making up for the drop in hours with work elsewhere

Rich also mentions that with employees experiencing a reduction in hours, the opportunity to make up the hours in other workplaces has also been afforded.

“If reduced hours are implemented, employers cannot unreasonably refuse an employee’s request to work in reasonable secondary employment, and must consider all reasonable requests for training, professional development and/or study leave.”

Employees in this position should keep in mind that these changes are temporary, and employment elsewhere will again be subject to the decisions of the original employer.

4. Far more flexible working from home hours

The essential need to minimise the spread of COVID-19 has seen an unprecedented shift to employees working from home. With this being the first time many employers have offered such an option, guidelines have been vague up until now.

“Non-shift workers working from home can agree to work their ordinary hours (as in, without payment of overtime), between 6am and 11pm Monday to Friday and 7am and 12:30pm on Saturday,” said Rich.

“Employers can agree with employees in a workplace or section of a workplace to temporarily reduce ordinary hours of work with a corresponding reduction in their weekly wage. Ordinary hours can be reduced to no less than 75 percent of an employees’ usual hours.

“In order to reduce ordinary hours in this way, agreement to the change must be reached with 75 percent of the full-time and part-time employees in the relevant workplace or section.”

5. Annual leave

Laws related to annual leave have also seen a reworking as businesses need to rethink how staff are utilised without giving them the rough end of the stick.

“Employers can agree with employees for them to take up to twice as much annual leave at a proportionately reduced rate of pay.  For example, twice the amount of leave but at half pay.

“Employers may require employees to take annual leave as part of a close down of its operations by giving at least one week’s notice.”

It’s safe to say that not all employees will have annual leave available to them, and changes to unpaid leave have also been made.

“If an employee does not have sufficient annual leave to cover a close-down, the employee can be placed on unpaid leave for the remaining period of the close-down. But not beyond the period that these changes operate – presently till 30 June 2020.”

How Clerks Award changes will affect businesses over the coming months

As these changes only operate until 30 June 2020, the application of the Clerks Awards changes will not necessarily have predictable results.

“How the changes operate will depend on the nature of the employer’s business, the extent to which their operations are continuing, and the extent to which their clerical and administrative staff are working from home,” said Rich.

“They encourage employers to respond more flexibly to the changing economic environment so as to maintain their employees in employment.”

Learning more about changes to the Clerks Award

With unique business circumstances fuelling uncertainty related to Clerks Award changes, employers may very well be looking to find out how these changes apply to them.

For employers seeking further clarification, Rich recommends they seek out relevant employer associations and the Fair Work Ombudsman.