A number of leading law firms want changes made to the Fair Work Act so they can cut employee costs.
Thirteen firms have applied to the Fair Work Commission for significant changes to the Legal Services Award.
They include the ability to:
- reduce employees work hours,
- directing them to take annual leave at half pay,
- and have them take unpaid leave.
Leading law firms argue changes are about surviving coronavirus crisis
The law firms argue the changes will help them survive the coronavirus crisis.
They want them in place until June 30 in order to preserve the “ongoing viability of businesses and preserving jobs”.
Under the changes, the firms want to reduce hours of full-time and part-time employees to 75 percent.
Additionally, they want to direct workers to take annual leave at half pay with one week’s notice.
Where an employee has not accrued sufficient leave to cover part or all of the close-down, they will be on unpaid leave.
Workers required to stay at home will be able to work a standard eight-hour shift at night without the firm having to pay overtime or penalty rates.
Furthermore, the firms are seeking to temporarily extend the working hours that don’t attract penalty rates from 6am to 11pm.
Union pushes back on proposal
The application has angered unions, who are pushing back on the proposal.
The Australian Services Union says the changes will impact law clerks, legal assistants, receptionists and also administrative and clerical staff.
Assistant national secretary Linda White says the firms are “trying to ram these changes through without proper engagement with the workforce”.
“It is not in the spirit of a consent application which is supposed to be made after employers and workers through the union have come to a consensus,” she said.
Balance must be met
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Claims says a balance must be met to keep businesses viable.
“Everyone is doing it tough during this awful health and economic crisis,” he said.
“We have already seem some good cooperation between employers and unions and governments to improve flexibility in some awards.
“However, I think it’s important that there is plenty of consultation before employers simply demand a get-out-of-jail free card from their legal obligations.”
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