Employers have been handed a reprieve from the Fair Work Commission after it agreed to extend special conditions covering more than one million clerical, payroll and administrative workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes to the clerks award, which include extending the ordinary hours a person can work if they are working at home, were due to expire on Tuesday but will be in place for another three months despite objections from unions.
Under the conditions, an employer can direct an employee to take annual leave, hire casual and part-time employees for shorter shifts and reduce employees’ hours or change their duties.
Australian Services Union national secretary Robert Potter labelled the commission’s decision “disappointing given the total lack of evidence that these arrangements are any longer required”.
He said only 24 employers responsible for 354 workers, out of a total workforce of 1.6 million employees, had taken on the provisions.
“We did win important concessions for workers including reducing the scope and impact of the (award) variations. These include protections for part-time and casual workers, a reduction in the span of work hours and the right for workers to vote against the continuation of reduced take home pay,” Mr Potter said.
“Where workers would like to cease these arrangements we’re urging them to speak to us to arrange a ballot in their workplace.
“It is also worth highlighting that not one employer has sought to use the variations to the clerks award since 11 May, which shows just how redundant these provisions are.”
The Morrison government’s $70bn JobKeeper package, which is linked to similar industrial relations flexibility measures, has been introduced since the award was amended by the Fair Work Commission.
Tamsin Lawrence, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace relations deputy director, said she was glad the commission had recognised the continuing need for workplace flexibility for employees covered by the award while the pandemic affected businesses.
“It is disappointing we could not reach a consensus position, but we hope to be able to continue our constructive relationship with the union movement going forward through the working groups on industrial relations reform,” Ms Lawrence said.
The government is also considering extending temporary variations to the Fair Work Act that were introduced alongside JobKeeper and which make it easier for employers to change an employee’s hours or duties.