Plan for working from home award changes

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Employees and bosses will be able to agree on flexible working from home arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic under a proposal from the industrial umpire.

Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross has released a draft plan to change awards, likely to be most relevant to small businesses without enterprise agreements.

The model includes a provision allowing agreement on working from home arrangements that balance personal and work responsibilities against the business needs of the employer.

Employees would be able to compress their week so usual hours are worked over fewer days.

Starting and finishing times could be staggered and employees directed to work at home or other locations.

Workers could take double the annual leave at half pay and also buy extra time off if bosses agree.

With the agreement of three quarters of a workforce, a cut to hours could be shared if an employer can’t usefully employ everyone.

Justice Ross said working from home had been one of the most significant shifts since the start of the pandemic.

“It is likely the direct economic and social impacts of the pandemic will be felt for some time to come,” he said.

“There will (likely) be a continuing need for flexible work arrangements to assist employers and employees in adapting to the changed conditions and to support the recovery.”

The draft proposal could be potentially be included in modern awards, most of which don’t expressly deal with working from home.

The commission president said that could constrain working from home arrangements if business was forced to pay penalty rates or overtime, despite employees seeking flexibility.

“It is intended that the model schedule be used as a starting point for discussion between parties,” Justice Ross said.

“Not all of the clauses proposed in the schedule will be suitable for all awards and some clauses will require tailoring to meet the needs of a particular industry or occupation.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the draft was an important initiative which would deliver flexibility.

“A very large number of employees are currently working from home, and it is evident that workplaces will never be the same again,” he said on Tuesday.