OPINION: Employment impact of COVID-19

By: Warren Clark


NatRoad member inquiries highlight employment issues

OPINION: Employment impact of COVID-19
Warren Clark

 

Natroad is committed to helping members navigate the uncertainties created by the current economic and social crisis caused by the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19). The viability of road transport operations is critical so that essential deliveries throughout society can continue and we want to make sure that our members stay in business.

We have been focusing on two fronts. The first is to send the message to Australian governments that reduction of transport operators’ fixed costs must be targeted: temporarily halting toll costs; suspending the fuel-based road user charge; and large state-based registration charges are measures which would assist especially smaller operators to weather the virus-induced economic storm.

That is a message we have pressed in our formal and informal representations to governments.

The second front is to help members cope, especially in managing their employees. A typical member query that we have been getting is set out  below to show where operators have reached out for guidance and how we have responded.

"We have seen our business drop off and we want to know the best approach to manage reduced staffing requirements. What should we do?"

First, where employees have outstanding annual or long service leave, reach an agreement with staff to take leave. For long service leave the NSW parliament recently passed changes to the long service leave law to create greater flexibility for employers and employees to access leave during the on-going Covid-19 crisis.

The amendments to the Long Service Leave Act 1955 (NSW) will allow employees to take leave in shorter blocks, such as one day a week, and without the traditional one-month notice period, by agreement with their employer.

In relation to annual leave, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides that it is up to each employer and employee to agree on when and for how long annual leave can be taken. We therefore advise members to seek volunteers who will agree to take annual leave.


Read Warren Clark’s plea to the Productivity Commission, here


If the agreed taking of leave is not sufficient to assist with business viability, the standing down of employees may be the next step. NatRoad is able to assist members draft letters to staff that comply with the Fair Work Act’s requirements about how to lawfully stand down employees.

In essence, if an employee cannot be usefully employed, and the stoppage of work (or even a full shut down of the business for a period) is outside of the employer’s control, the employer is not required to pay employees that are stood down.

Because stand down doesn’t come with pay the uncertainty created by stand down may cause concerns for employees and, therefore, we advise regular contact with staff who are stood down, particularly for their mental health. The usual employment accruals (e.g. annual leave) apply during stand down.

Government assistance for those stood down because of Covid-19 is available; see our website for useful resources: https://www.natroad.com.au/ coronavirus

The final choice is to make redundancies. But that, of course, means when there is a return to normality the employees have left your employ. Again, NatRoad can assist members guide through the process of making employees redundant which involves formal consultation and getting feedback from employees.

Warren Clark is NatRoad’s chief executive officer

 

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