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Workers will have 24 hours to respond to COVID-19 related pay cuts

Idemitsu Boggabri Coal Mine
File photo of Idemitsu Boggabri coal miners

Flexible industrial relations rules will significantly reduce the time employees have to negotiate wage decreases, an industry body warns.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has questioned the Federal Government’s decision to fast-track changes to the Fair Work Act that allows employers to give one day’s notice to discuss and vote on any enterprise agreement changes.

One day to decide

Employers previously had to give at least seven days’ notice for such changes and will now have a much shorter “access period” to respond to pay cuts during the Chinese coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The union said this was not the time for employers to take advantage of the crisis to reduce wages, and confirmed workers have the right to object.

“Our industries needs the goodwill of their workers now more than ever,” CFMEU general president Tony Maher said in a public statement. “If anyone is sprung with a surprise vote on changes to an enterprise agreement, we encourage them to contact the union and to vote no if they are unsure.”

12 month pay cuts

Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter revealed the changes, which One Nation supported, would mean any COVID-19 related pay cut could last for up to a year.

“This is a reasonable compromise, which will ensure that any variations made to enterprise agreements using the shortened access period do not extend beyond 12 months,” he said in a public statement.

“As we start to see some businesses reopen and work towards resuming normal operations, there may be a need to adapt workplaces to ensure social distancing measures to protect employees and customers. Some businesses may need to divide their workforce into teams that rotate between working from home and in the office or have a longer span of regular hours in which staff can work.”

So far at least nine employers have applied for enterprise agreement changes at the Fair Work Commission. Porter denied there was any conclusive proof of employers taking advantage of the pandemic to reduce wages.

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The Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA) congratulated Senator Pauline Hanson for helping the government overcome Labor’s opposition to allowing employers to quickly make temporary changes to workplace arrangements.

“Mandating that employers consult over any changes for at least seven days is obviously not a practical position to take in the COVID-19 business environment,” AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said in a public statement.

“If a change to working hours or conditions takes longer than 24 hours to explain to employees, it is probably too complicated anyway and unlikely to gain majority support of the workforce.”

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