COVID-19 and Your Rights at Work

Fact sheet on changes to workplace agreements, pay and conditions

Without warning the Morrison Government has introduced laws allowing big business to permanently change your pay and conditions with just 24 hours notice.

Employers will have these powers for six months, and any changes made to your workplace agreement, pay and conditions will be permanent.

This is a disgusting sneak attack on working Australians who are carrying the country through the coronavirus crisis.

We still have the power to stop these attacks and protect conditions if we stick together.

Contact the union immediately if you hear about a ballot or potential changes to your workplace conditions.

Vote NO to any changes to your workplace agreement if you are unsure or haven’t received advice from your union.

It is critical all union members and workers remain united. Now more than ever we need to pull together to fight off this sneaky attack on workers’ rights.

Remember, we are stronger together – the AWU is here to support you.

There has never been a more important time to be a member of your union. If you’re not a member, you can join today online to get immediate access to union support and membership benefits.

Q: What changes have been made by the Government for enterprise agreement variations?

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, an employer can request the employees covered by an enterprise agreement to vote to approve a variation to the agreement. The variation is approved if a majority of the employees that cast a vote agree to the variation.

However, the Fair Work Act 2009 previously required an employer to give employees a copy of the proposed variation and notice of the voting process at least 7 days before the voting process commenced. These changes reduce that notice period from 7 days down to just 1 day.

Q: Why didn’t this change need to be approved by Parliament?

The Government has utilised a general power to make regulations about variations to enterprise agreements under s 211(6) of the Fair Work Act 2009. Changes to regulations do not need to be approved by the Parliament.

Q: Does the reduced notification period only apply if I am receiving Job Keeper payments?

No, the reduced notification period applies to all employers and employees covered by the Fair Work Act 2009.

Q: What should I do if I am asked to approve a variation to an enterprise agreement?

Urgently contact your AWU Organiser to discuss the proposed variation.

Q: Do I have to agree to vary an enterprise agreement because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

No, employers are entitled to request that employees vote on a proposed variation. However, employees have the legal right to decide whether or not they agree to the variation.

Q: Can my employer pressure me to agree to a variation of an enterprise agreement?

No, an employer will contravene the general protections in the Fair Work Act 2009 if they take any action, or threaten to take action, with the intent of coercing an employee to vote in favour of a variation to an enterprise agreement.

Q: Can an employer take action against employees if they refuse to agree to a variation?

No, an employer will contravene the general protections in the Fair Work Act 2009 if they take adverse action against employees because they vote against a proposed variation to an enterprise agreement.

However, an employer can still take actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the future such as standing employees down or implementing genuine redundancies. These actions will only be unlawful if they are taken in response to a proposed variation not being agreed by employees.

Q: Will any variations made to an enterprise agreement cease operating at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic?

No, it is very important to understand that any variations will only have a time limit if that time limit is specified in the variation.

For example, if an agreement is varied to state:

The wage increases specified in this Agreement will not be applied as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This provision will cease to operate on 28 September 2020.

Under this provision, wage increases would apply as normal from 28 September 2020.

However, if an agreement is varied to state:

The wage increases specified in this Agreement will not be applied as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This provision would continue operating indefinitely until the Agreement is varied, replaced or terminated.

Q: Can I agree to a variation during COVID-19 but reverse the variation after the pandemic ends?

Not necessarily, an employer has the power to determine whether to request that employees vote on a proposed variation to an enterprise agreement. This is why employees need to be very careful about what variations they agree to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Does the Fair Work Commission have to approve a variation to an enterprise agreement?

Yes, a variation will not take effect until it is approved by the Fair Work Commission. The Fair Work Commission can only approve the variation if it is satisfied that the variation:

  • has been genuinely agreed;
  • will result in employees being better off overall than they would be if the relevant award applied to them; and
  • does not reduce any conditions in the National Employment Standards?

Q: How long will this reduced notification period apply?

The reduced 1-day notification period will operate for six months. However, this period could later be extended by the Government. In addition, the 1-day notification period will apply when the Fair Work Commission considers approving a variation if the voting process occurred prior to the end of the six-month period.

If you have questions or concerns about any of the above, contact your union delegate or organiser immediately or use the form below.

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