The passing of the $130 billion JobKeeper Scheme in Parliament last Wednesday, aimed at ensuring businesses stay in operation and Australians stay employed and engaged with their employer, has created a financial lifeline for many of our clients during the COVID-19 crisis.
It also heralds history making changes to the Australian employment landscape with never-before seen temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 to enable the practical operation of the JobKeeper Scheme.
These new temporary amendments to the Act allow employers much greater flexibility than they have had previously to change employment arrangements to suit their specific business needs and circumstances during the crisis.
It is critically important to note that the new provisions only apply to employers who have qualified for the JobKeeper Payment and their eligible employees, and that there are specific conditions attached to each of these new provisions.
We therefore recommend that clients seek advice before utilising the new provisions to ensure compliance with all of the relevant conditions.
JobKeeper Scheme – a recap
The JobKeeper scheme is a wage subsidy payment of $1500 per fortnight (before tax) to qualifying employers that must be on-paid to their eligible employees. It is aimed at helping employers retain staff during the downturn caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and support business recovery when conditions improve.
For clarification of how JobKeeper Payments will be made and eligibility requirements since the Bills surrounding the JobKeeper Scheme have been passed and the rules defined, click HERE.
How do you apply for the JobKeeper Payment?
If your business is eligible for the JobKeeper Payment and you wish to participate, the only thing you need to do now is register your interest on the ATO website by clicking HERE. By registering, you will receive updates and information from the ATO about how and when to claim the JobKeeper Payment.
Amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009
The Federal Parliament has passed urgent temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 to deliver the JobKeeper wage subsidy and support eligible employers with more flexibility to manage the workplace impacts, such as standing down employees or reducing their hours.
For qualifying employers participating in the JobKeeper Scheme, these new provisions are in addition to the payment and override any modern award, enterprise agreement or employment contract that currently applies.
The amendments are intended to be temporary to assist during the pandemic and will cease on 27th September 2020.
What are the changes to the Act?
Changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic allow employers who qualify for the JobKeeper scheme to:
- Enforce specific directions (called a JobKeeper enabling stand down direction) without the consent of eligible employees.
- More readily reach agreement with eligible employees on certain aspects, including the taking of annual leave and changing of days and time of work.
JobKeeper Enabling Stand Down Directions
Under the new arrangements, and subject to certain conditions, qualifying employers can give a direction to an eligible employee to:
- Stand down without pay (completely or partially) for any period that they cannot be usefully employed.
- Not work on a day or days on which they would usually work.
- Work less hours than they would ordinarily work on a particular day or days.
- Undertake different duties providing they are safe, within the employee’s skill and competency, within the scope of the employer’s business operation and that the employee is licensed and qualified to do them (if applicable).
- Perform duties at a place that is different from their normal workplace providing it is safe, suitable for the employee’s duties and does not require the employee to travel an unreasonable distance from their home.
Through consultation with the eligible employee, an eligible employer can also agree with an eligible employee to:
- Change the days and times that they work.
- Take annual leave at full or half pay (note – employees will be entitled to insist that they retain at least two weeks of accrued annual leave).
Under the amendments, an employee must consider and must not unreasonably refuse the employer’s request for agreement to these changed arrangements.
What Conditions and Penalties apply?
Under the amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009, there are a number of important conditions that apply to each of the provisions. If employers breach these conditions they may be liable to pay significant penalties (generally $63,000 per breach for a company or $12,600 for individuals (‘knowingly involved in’ a breach).
For more details on the conditions and qualifications that apply, please click HERE.
Changes/End of Arrangements
A JobKeeper enabling stand down direction or agreement will continue in effect until withdrawn or revoked by the employer, replaced by a new direction from the employer, withdrawn or revoked under a Fair Work Commission order within its jurisdiction under the scheme, or on 28 September 2020 when the JobKeeper payment ends.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) will have jurisdiction to deal with disputes arising under the new JobKeeper provisions until 28 September 2020.
These new amendments provide employers with an opportunity to align working arrangements quickly and effectively to their business needs during this crisis. However the new laws and the conditions that apply to each provision are complex and require careful consideration by employers when applying them to their specific circumstances.
Our Allan Hall HR team are highly experienced in interpreting and dealing with workplace laws and their implementation. They have taken the time to examine the ins and outs of these new laws and can guide you through a tailored approach that is appropriate for your unique business and employee needs. For more information, please contact our HR team directly on 1300 675 393 or email [email protected].
Your Allan Hall Advisor can also assist you with the requirements for payments and tax surrounding the implementation of the JobKeeper payments. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 02 9981 2300 or email: [email protected].