Amidst the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought into our lives, young law student Bianca explains what your work rights are and what they might mean for your job security in light of the pandemic.
The laws regarding employment are found in the Fair Work Act, a Commonwealth Act, meaning the rights protected in the Act are secured federally. Specifically, these rights are safeguarded by the FairWork Commission, whose purpose is to ensure the responsible and ethical delivery of the Fair Work Act. The Commission’s powers and functions are wide-ranging, and include setting the national minimum wage. If you would like to know more about the Fair Work Commission you can head to their website here.
Under the Fair Work Act, definitions of ‘full-time’ ‘part-time’ and ‘casual’ employees are provided, along with what rights each type of employee is entitled to.
What type of employee am I?
If you are a full-time employee, you work 38 hours each week (on average), entered into and signed an employment contract, and have wide-ranging entitlements including paid sick leave and annual leave. Full time workers are also entitled to compulsory superannuation contributions, paid by the employer into your nominated super fund. You can read more about how super works and is paid below.
If you are a part-time employee, you work less than 38 hours each week (on average), likely entered into and signed an employment contract, and have wide-ranging entitlements including paid sick leave and annual leave. Part-time workers are also entitled to compulsory super contributions.
If you are a casual employee, you are not guaranteed any hours of work, usually work irregular hours and are not entitled to paid sick leave or annual leave. However, casual employees receive a higher pay rate than their full and part-time counterparts and this is called a ‘casual loading.’ This casual loading is provided as compensation to casual workers for not receiving benefits such as paid sick leave or annual leave. Like full-time and part-time employees, casual workers are also the beneficiaries of Australia’s compulsory superannuation system.
Young people in Australia aged 15-24 are much more likely to work casually. And due to the high concentration of casual workers in the hospitality or retail industry, many young people are first to lose their jobs when businesses slow or shut down. Employers are under no obligation to continue employing them with or without a pandemic upon us.
Fair Work have a dedicated page to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Australian workplace. They encourage employees and employers to work together to find the most beneficial and workable solutions to suit the circumstances of each workplace.
What about super?
Under the superannuation guarantee scheme, employers have to pay superannuation contributions of 9.5% of an employee’s ordinary time earnings if you are paid $450 or more (before tax) in a month, and are over 18. If you are under 18, to be paid compulsory super contributions from your employee you must work over 30 hours a week. This applies to full-time, part-time and casual employees who earn $450 or more (before tax) in a month. Super must be paid at least every three months into your nominated superannuation fund account.
If you’re not sure whether you have been receiving super payments, make sure you contact your employer to discuss, as it’s important that you receive what you are entitled to.
Redundant vs Stood Down
Employers may decide to stand down staff, or make staff redundant, as we have seen recently with Qantas’ decision to stand down 200,000 of their domestic and international fleets. Being stood down or made redundant are two different processes with different consequences as set out in the Fair Work Act. Here is what these terms mean:
An employer is able to dismiss an employee on the basis that their role has been made redundant, as long as it is a “genuine redundancy” meaning that, as in the case of COVID-19, the employer no longer requires anyone to perform that job because of changes in operational requirements.
For example, Sally works in retail and is a shop assistant. Recently, there were increased restrictions to ensure social distancing, and Sally’s work had to close. Sally’s employer now no longer requires the job to be performed by anyone, and as a result, Sally’s job is now redundant and she will likely face termination.
Being stood down is intended to freeze your employment as opposed to terminating it. An employer may stand down an employee for a defined period where the employee cannot usefully be employed because, as in the case of COVID-19, there has been a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.
For example, if Sally was stood down, this would be for a period of time—though there is no defined period of time required by law—and she may resume her job after the stand-down period has concluded. However, if there is still no job for Sally to perform, she may be made redundant but would be entitled to any termination benefits that would apply to her type of employment.
So what if I’ve lost my job?
If you’ve found yourself out of a job as a result of COVID-19, firstly, I’m really sorry you’re going through that. But there are certain steps you can take to receive an income during this time.
In particular, the Morrison government has recently introduced the Coronavirus Supplement which is an additional payment for those on eligible welfare payments. This scheme is worth $550 a fortnight and various welfare entitlements are eligible including JobSeeker (formerly known as Newstart), and Youth Allowance for job seekers and students. Follow this 7-step guide from the ABC on how to apply for a JobSeeker payment.
If you’ve been stood down, you may be eligible for the JobKeeper payment. This is where the Government will provide $1,500 per fortnight per employee to businesses impacted by COVID-19 so they can pay their staff a base wage even if there’s no work right now or their hours have been cut. It’s also available to the self-employed and will last for six months.
Services Australia has a range of other payments available to young people who have found themselves without work during this time.
- If you run a small business, check out this state-by-state guide to the support you’re eligible for
- If you’re a sole trader or freelancer, check out support from Services Australia
- And from March 31, if you’re defined as a low-income earner, a one-off payment of $750 will be automatically made to all social security card holders, income support recipients and eligible concession cardholders. This includes those on Newstart and those receiving family tax benefits.
If you don’t currently receive welfare benefits, you are able to register your intention to apply for payments now on MyGov.
Alternatively, if you are looking for legal advice during this time, Legal Aid provides a free service and has a dedicated page for COVID-19 issues.
These are extremely stressful and uncertain times for all Australians, and as young people, it’s important we band together, understand our rights and receive what we are entitled to. Stay healthy, safe and indoors. We’ll get through this together.