The Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020 introduces a new Part 6-4C into the Fair Work Act 2009.
The Part allows employers to give certain directions to employees and make certain requests of them. It also allows the Fair Work Commission to deal with disputes about the operation of the new Part.
The provisions of the new Part are confined to an employer that is a ‘national system employer’ and to an employee who a ‘national system employee’ (s.789GC). Note also the extended meaning of these terms found in Division 2A of Part 1-3 of the Fair Work Act.
The new Part allows an employer who qualifies for the job keeper scheme and becomes entitled to jobkeeper payments for an employee during the relevant period, to give the employee three new kinds of directions:
Each of these three directions is a ‘jobkeeper enabling direction’ and is subject to the employer payment obligations in Division 2 and conditions in Division 6. A direction does not apply to an employee if it is unreasonable (s.789GK). And the employer must consult the employee, and give the employee written notice of the intention to give the direction at least three days before it is given, or a lesser period if the employee genuinely agrees. A direction to perform other duties or to work at a different place must also be ‘necessary to continue the employment of one or more employees’ (s.789GL).
Each of the three substantive direction provisions contains additional requirements, including in relation to safety.
A direction has effect despite a ‘designated employment provision’ which includes a term of a contract and a fair work instrument, but operates subject to the protections in Division 12.
Leave continues to accrue as if the jobkeeper enabling direction had not been given (s.789GS).
There are also provisions that enable an employer that is qualified for the jobkeeper scheme, and entitled to jobkeeper payments for an employee, to give the employee a request, which the employee must then consider and not unreasonably refuse.
First, an employer may request an employee to work on days or at times that are different from the employee’s ordinary days or times, but which do not reduce the employee’s number of hours of work (compared with the employee’s ordinary hours) (s.789GG).
Second, an employer may request an employee to take paid annual leave, provided the request does not result in the employee having a balance of fewer than two weeks (s.789GJ(1)). (An employer and employee can also agree to the employee taking twice as much paid annual leave at half pay under s.789GJ(2).)
If an employer has given an employee a jobkeeper stand down enabling direction, the employee may give the employer a request to engage in ‘reasonable secondary employment’, or a request for training or professional development. The employer must consider and must not unreasonably refuse the request (s.789GU).
Requests are also subject to the relevant employer payment obligations in Division 2 and the protections in Division 12.
The Commission ‘may deal with a dispute about the operation of this Part,’ including by arbitration (s.789GV(2)). Mediation, conciliation, recommendations and opinions are also contemplated (see the reference to s.595(2) in the note to s 789GV(2)). There must first be an application from an employer, employee, union or employer association.
The Commission ‘may’ make any of the orders in s.789GV(4), which includes any order it considers ‘desirable’ to give effect to a direction, setting aside a direction, or substituting a different direction. The Commission may also make ‘any other order it considers appropriate’. The Commission must take into account ‘fairness between the parties concerned’ (s.789GV(7)).
Disputes coming before the Commission may concern, for example: whether a jobkeeper enabling stand down is ‘because of’ changes to business attributable to the pandemic or the government’s response to it; whether an employee ‘cannot be usefully employed for the employee’s normal days or hours’ (potentially less clear cut in the case of a partial stand down); safety implications of directions, including in relation to transmission of the virus; whether alternative duties are within an employee’s skills and the scope of the business concerned; suitability of alternative workplaces; the reasonableness of employee refusals to work different days or times, or to take annual leave; whether a direction is unreasonable in all of the circumstances; employer compliance with consultation and notice requirements regarding a direction; and whether a direction to perform other duties or work at a different place is ‘necessary to continue the employment of one or more employees’.
The relevant divisions of Part 6-4C are repealed with effect from 28 September 2020 and any jobseeker enabling directions (and agreed changes to working days and times) in effect at the time of repeal then cease to have effect. The Commission can deal with disputes after 28 September 2020 (but cannot make an order giving effect to a direction or substituting a direction after that date).
Read a copy of the Explanatory Memorandum for the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020.