Finally some good news for employers has arrived.  (Everything’s relative).

The Federal Government’s wage subsidy scheme will fund wage subsidies for eligible employers of eligible employees[1] of up to $1,500 per fortnight (see the ATO Fact Sheet).

Employees dismissed since 1 March 2020 may be rehired to benefit from the scheme.  Employees currently stood down can remain at home and still receive the subsidy, ready to return to work when restrictions lift.

Three modern awards have been varied in response to COVID-19 to insert a flexibility schedule that will apply until 30 June 2020.  The schedule will offer employers of clerks and those in the hospitality and restaurant industries the opportunity to reduce employees’ hours in circumstances that would normally amount to an expensive breach of these awards.

The award schedules vary, so check the one that applies to your staff.  In summary, hotels and restaurants may (after consultation) direct full-time staff to work as few as 22.8 hours per week, and part-time staff as little as 60% of their guaranteed hours.  They may direct employees to perform any safe duties within their skillset.

While reduced hours are worked:

  1. Entitlements still accrue according the employee’s ordinary (not reduced) hours; and
  2. Any paid leave is to be paid at the employee’s ordinary hours worked prior to commencement of the Schedules.

Employers may direct their employees to take annual leave on only 24 hours’ notice.  Taking twice as much leave on half as much pay is permitted.  A direction may be given to close down[2] the business on only one week’s notice (but unpaid leave during this time counts as service).

For clerks, a reduction in hours requires the support of 75% permanent employees.  A minimum engagement period of two hours applies to working from home, and the spread of ordinary hours has widened to 6am to 11pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 12:30pm Saturday.

Check the terms of the schedules that affect your business to be sure you get the details right.  These measures, together with some co-operation and goodwill, will see us through this terrible time.

[1] And others, including sole traders.

[2] Note this is different to ‘stand down’.  Some awards allow employers to close down the business once or twice a year.  This usually occurs at Christmas.