As quickly as the COVID-19 situation changes in Australia and worldwide, so too does the impact of the virus and the government restrictions on employers and their businesses. We will continue to update employers as information becomes available.
In this Alert we look at the latest announcements and changes including:
- the new government restrictions announced last night (24 March 2020) and effective from midnight on Wednesday, 25 March 2020;
- changes made to the Hospitality Industry (General) Award in response to the significant challenges facing that industry as a result of COVID-19 and government restrictions; and
- Queensland’s border controls effective from 1midnight on Wednesday, 25 March 2020 and what it means for employers who have employees that travel across the border for work.
You can find our previous alerts here, noting that some of the information may no longer be current given how quickly the situation is changing. We have set up a dedicated webpage to provide information on COVID-19 and the key issues employers need to be considering at this time.
The issues that COVID-19 and the Government restrictions bring to employers and their businesses are complex legal issues. We encourage Employers to be considered in their approach; review all available information and take legal advice before acting, so as to minimise your risks.
New Government Restrictions
The National Cabinet has agreed to enhanced social distancing measures to build on the existing measures that are already in place to slow the spread of coronavirus. The following further closures and restrictions will apply from midnight on Wednesday, 25 March 2020:
- Auction houses, real estate auctions and open house inspections. (Private appointments for inspections can remain operational).
- Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, tattoo parlours, spa and massage parlours.
- Amusement parks, arcades, indoor and outdoor play centres, community and recreation centres, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, bathhouses, wellness centres, swimming pools, social sporting-based activities.
- Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres, youth centres, local government non-essential facilities such as libraries and swimming pools and community facilities such as community halls, clubs, RSLs, PCYCs.
- Food courts in shopping centres – takeaway only.
- Shopping centres – remain open but shops need to observe the 4 square metres per person rule and display to patrons how many people can be inside the shop at any one time.
- Hairdressers and barber shops – remain open but must observe the 4 square metres per person rule and and personal contact should be minimised wherever possible. Since this alert was posted on 25 March, the Government has lifted the instruction of no more than 30 minutes per appointment as this was impractical.
- Weddings and funerals – weddings limited to 5 people and funerals to 10 people, observing the 4 square metre per person rule and social distancing practices. Since this Alert was published on 25 March, the Government has noted that in hardship cases, States and Territories can provide exemptions in relation to the number of people attending funerals, but only at the margin.
- Boot camps and personal training – for outside events, limited to a maximum of 10 people and observing social distancing.
- Outdoor and indoor markets – restrictions will be decided by each state (food markets are excluded and will continue to operate).
- Hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks and boarding houses – restrictions will be decided by each state (excluding permanent residents and workers). The Queensland Government has just announced that Queensland Camp Sites will be closed from 26 March 2020. The announcement states that “All campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state managed recreation and protected areas will be closed…”.
The above restrictions are in addition to the social distancing restrictions already in place. See the Prime Minister’s media release here for a summary of all of the current restrictions.
The closures and restrictions will have a significant effect on many employers and employees and may result in employees being stood down or having their employment terminated due to their position being redundant. The legal issues in relation to stand downs, redundancies, leave entitlements, WH&S and other surrounding workplace issues are complex and need to be considered on a case by case basis. We strongly recommend that employers get legal advice from Aitken Legal’s employment lawyers before taking any action.
Changes to the Hospitality Industry (General) Award
The Fair Work Commission has inserted a temporary COVID-19 schedule into the Hospitality Award following an application for award flexibility in response to the significant impact the government restrictions have had on the hospitality industry.
Briefly, the new schedule (schedule L) enables employers to direct an employee:
- to perform any duties that are within their skill and competency regardless of their classification provided the employee has the correct licences and qualifications (the current higher duties clause in the award will apply);
- who is full-time to work an average of between 22.8 to 38 ordinary hours per week and the employee will be paid on a pro-rata basis;
- who is part-time to work an average of between 60% to 100% of their guaranteed hours per week or an average of between 60% and 100% of their guaranteed hours per week over the roster cycle;
- to take annual leave with 24 hours’ notice (subject to considering their personal circumstances). Under the schedule, employers and employees can also agree to taking twice the duration of annual leave at half the rate of pay for all or part of any period of annual leave.
Employers will have to consult with employees (and the UWU if the employees are members) over the introduction of any changes to hours and rosters in accordance with the Hospitality Award.
The schedule came into operation on 24 March 2020 and will operate until 30 June 2020 but could be extended on application. The schedule will take effect from the start of the first full pay period on or after 24 March 2020.
If you are an employer in the hospitality industry and would like further information on the above schedule or if you are considering applying the schedule to your workers, we recommend that you first get legal advice from Aitken Legal’s employment lawyers on the requirements and impact of the schedule.
Queensland Border Controls
The Queensland Government has announced that Queensland will restrict access at its border from midnight on Wednesday, 25 March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19. Anyone travelling to Queensland, who is not usually a resident in Queensland, will have to agree to self-isolate for 14 days, whether they are sick or not (unless one of the exemptions applies).
The Premier stated that the controls are “…not directed at our border communities who cross to shop or work, attend medical appointments and return to their homes.”
There are various exemptions to the border restrictions, including for ‘persons travelling to and from work’. The Queensland Government has said that police are developing methods to identify vehicles in border communities to make frequent essential border crossings easier – such as a permit.
Aitken Legal is continuing to provide exceptional, professional and timely employment law advice to employers and businesses during this unprecedented time.
If you have any queries in relation to the government restrictions, the award changes, the Queensland border controls or any other issue in relation to the impact of coronavirus on your business and employees, please get in touch with one of our dedicated employment lawyers.
Disclaimer: The information contained this article is general and intended as a guide only. Professional advice should be sought before applying any of the information to particular circumstances. While every reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this update, Aitken Legal does not accept liability for any errors it may contain. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.