Employers and clients who are closely following the changes to Awards recently introduced by the Fair Work Commission (Commission) to combat the impact of COVID-19, may not be aware that on Thursday 30 April we saw what may be the first of many disagreements between employers and unions play out in the Commission.
A little background: recent changes introduced by the Commission have included an unpaid period of two weeks leave for any employees required to self-isolate by order of the government or medical authorities. This is formally known as “Unpaid Pandemic Leave” and is due to expire on 30 June 2020.
What happened on 30 April 2020?
Health unions have taken the view that given the stresses currently being put upon their members in dealing with the pandemic, this period of Unpaid Pandemic Leave should be paid.
On Thursday 30 April, Commission president Ian Ross J, convened a conference of affected unions and employers during which a dispute arose regarding how much time should be required to file and serve documents (sound familiar)!
Some employer representatives requested a full month to have their documents in order. For their part, the ACTU felt that given the urgency – remember the entitlement expires on 30 June – it was important to get to the hearing well before the June deadline as there would be no prospect of this entitlement being awarded retrospectively (post 30 June).
According to the Commission, changes to these health care awards impact upon well over two million employees Australia wide.
For their part, employer representatives took the view that these proposed changes represent a material claim seeking substantive changes to conditions of employment that will have an impact on the minimum standards outlined in the National Employment Standards and charge that unions, are ‘seeking to move with a level of expedition which is not normally the case’.
President Ross indicated that he will convene a conference soon after the ACTU files all witness statements on 11 May.
As we start to claw out of our COVID-19 restrictions, it would appear that the brief show of unity between the industrial parties that achieved much in a short time, has seen its first cracks.
The question is: Will we now witness a further dismemberment of the façade, or will we come out of this difficult period armed with a new approach for the industrial relations landscape?
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