Should the Government Introduce ‘Pandemic Leave’?

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Corona isolation

COVOID-19 effectively brings Australia to a grinding halt, workplace laws are set to change to provide more entitlements to employees in the face of ‘pandemic’.

The Fair Work Commission has announced plans to give unpaid pandemic leave to any Australians who need it.

What is ‘Pandemic leave’?

The changes were prompted by the realisation that gaps in the current laws meant some employees did not have a legal entitlement to ‘self-isolate’ unless their employers gave express permission. Essentially, this left employees exposed and placed in a position which meant they could commit the offence of failing to comply with a public health order, or put their job in jeopardy.

In particular, in the current context, this would be of concern to people who had just returned from overseas, or who felt perfectly healthy but had come into contact with someone who had a confirmed case of Coronavirus.

Under the changes, all workers, whether full-time, part-time or casual, would be able to access the leave if they had been told to self-isolate by the government or advised by a doctor. It means re-working 103 of the 122 industrial awards that exist in Australia, covering about 20% of all workers

The proposal includes two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave accessible to all workers, whether full-time, part-time or casual. Anyone required to isolate by a government mandate or on medical advice would be able to access the leave.

The commission has also proposed allowing businesses to offer their workers twice their annual leave at half the regular rate of pay.

Similar provisions have already been added to major industry awards, including one covering more than a million administrative workers, through negotiations between employer and i

Additional annual leave entitlements

The commission also proposes to allow businesses to offer their workers twice their annual leave entitlement at half the regular rate of pay.

This provides more flexibility for employers, offering an alternative to standing down workers without pay.

Employees would have the options to take leave at half pay.

Protecting workers and protecting jobs

It’s imperative for the legislation to be changed to protect workers like the 20,000 Qantas employees who were told last week they would be temporarily stood down, but not be eligible for paid sick leave  or carer’s leave— leaving staff who may have been exposed to coronavirus in financial peril, and also terminating the sick leave entitlements of staff already receiving it for long-term illnesses.

Instead, Qantas told staff they could access their annual leave and have early access to future annual leave and any accrued long-service leave.

The Government has agreed to the reforms after discussions with a number of industry representatives and unions, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Industry Group and unions like the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. They will take effect as soon as possible.

It will also help thousands of small businesses trying to work out how to deal with the current crisis. The Federal Government has made provision for extra welfare payments, as well as financial assistance to businesses in an effort to make sure people don’t fall into financial hardship at this time.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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