Workers buying leave? Fair Work floats new COVID-19 flexibility rules to help SMEs adjust to remote work

skills shortages

How would you feel about compressed work weeks, staggering hours and selling additional leave to staff?

These are just some of the options for expanded workplace flexibility floated by Fair Work Commission (FWC) president Iain Ross as small businesses across the country settle into remote work arrangements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross published a “draft award flexibility schedule” on Monday, packed with ideas he says could be popped into “appropriate” modern awards to help SMEs strike the balance between flexible work arrangements and business needs.

“It is likely the direct economic and social impacts of the pandemic will be felt for some time to come, and that there will be a continuing need for flexible work arrangements to assist employers and employees in adapting to the changed conditions and to support the recovery,” Ross said of the schedule.

If enacted, the schedule would allow staff working under applicable awards to:

  • Request to compress their working week so usual hours are worked over a reduced number of days;
  • Take twice as much annual leave at half-pay, with agreement from their employer;
  • Purchase additional leave with agreement from their employer;
  • Change the span of hours in their workplace, with agreement of 75% of staff; and
  • Share necessary reductions in working hours, with agreement from 75% of staff.

Additionally, employers would be able to:

  • Direct workers to perform all duties within their skill and competency;
  • Direct workers to work from a different workplace, including their home; and
  • Direct workers to stagger their start and finish times.

Ross said the clause could be inserted into many of Australia’s 121 modern awards on a 12-month trial basis, asking industry participants for feedback about how each set of changes could be adjusted to meet industry-specific needs.

“The draft model Flexibility Schedule includes a provision which allows for an employer and an employee to reach agreement on a working-from-home arrangement that balances the personal and work responsibilities of the employee with the business needs of the employer,” Ross said.

Many of these measures are already available to employers working under the JobKeeper program, but several hundred thousand businesses are slated to lose access to these provisions when the first phase of the wage subsidy program expires later this month.

The changes would give all businesses operating under relevant awards access to these flexibility measures, while also granting workers additional flexibility with leave and hours of work.

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