The Fair Work Commission (FWC) and Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) have both played an active role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked to vary modern employment awards to accommodate the need for flexibility and understanding in the workplace; as has been done with the Clerks, Hospitality, Education and Restaurant Awards. In this article, we will dissect the changes to these awards, demonstrating how our system of Fair Work has adapted and changed to the COVID-19 environment.

In relation to the Hospitality and Restaurant awards, the key provisions are that a full-time employee can now work between 22.8 to 38 ordinary hours per week and that employers may direct an employee to take annual leave with 24 hours’ notice.

The Clerks Award has introduced a new Schedule allowing employers to temporarily reduce hours of work for full time and part-time employees to align with the JobKeeper-enabling stand-down directions. The schedule also enabled an employee and employer to take up to double their annual leave at a reduced rate for a period of being away from work. The changes also effected differences in working hours which can now span for clerks from half-days to full days. Clerks can also be asked to complete tasks outside of their usual area of expertise, provided they are safe and qualified to do so.

For the Education Award, there is a ‘Schedule J’, operative till 1 August 2020. It allows employers to request their employees complete lesser duties outside of their usual areas of expertise regardless of their classification, but subject to their holding of necessary qualifications. The Schedule also allows employers to request a 25 percent reduction of ordinary working hours for part-time or full-time employees which can remain in force for up to 12 weeks.

Unpaid pandemic leave is another measure the FWO and FWC have implemented. They have varied 99 modern awards to introduce two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave and the ability for an employee to take twice their annual leave at half-pay. These changes do not apply to industries less affected by the pandemic such as mining or maritime sectors.

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