In repsonse to the changed environment brought on by COVID-19 Master Builders has launched a joint push with other industry peak bodies to temporarily vary key industry awards.

Rebecca Sostarko, Senior Adviser Safety, Contracts & Workplace Relations explains further.

Master Builders, together with the HIA and Ai Group, has filed an application to temporarily vary the Construction Awards to address the ongoing safety and economic challenges posed by COVID-19.

The application to the Fair Work Commission comes following weeks of discussions with building unions which regrettably failed to reach a consensus on what we see as necessary changes to the Awards at this time. 

The changes sought are not only in light of issues the building and construction industry has faced in relation to social distancing and hygiene, but also in response to the various data already showing a significant downturn in the industry and predicting an even more dire economic outcome in the coming months.

Designed to help our members remain viable and protect jobs, the changes essentially reflect those made by the JobKeeper amendments to the Fair Work Act, enabling workplaces to better respond to COVID-19 and hopefully minimise any adverse impacts. 

We have also sought to loosen particularly restrictive provisions unique to the Construction Awards, such as the Redundancy, RDO and casual minimum engagement clauses, as well as extend the ordinary hours of work to better enable businesses to safely stagger work undertaken on site.  This is particularly critical for smaller businesses who use the award and make up more than 98% of the sector. 

If granted, the proposed variation would result in a new Schedule to be included in the Building and Construction General On-Site Award 2010, Joinery and Building Trades Award 2010 and Mobile Crane Hiring Award 2010The Schedules, where applicable, would provide a number of flexibilities to assist in mitigating against the impacts of the pandemic including to:

  • Incorporate the Fair Work Commission’s own Unpaid Pandemic and Annual leave at half pay provisions.
  • Provide employers with the ability to give employees certain directions; such as to take accrued annual leave and RDOs, undertake other duties, and reduce the number of hours and location of work.
  • Allow employers and employees to agree to an extended ordinary hours of work, to be between 6:00am and 7:00pm Monday to Friday, and 6:00am and 2:00pm on Saturdays.
  • Bring forward the capacity for employers and employees to have greater flexibility in determining how accrued RDOs may be rostered and taken.
  • Amend the definition of redundancy to reflect its conventional meaning and to allow employers to apply to the Commission for the amount of redundancy pay to be reduced (which may be nil) if they cannot afford to pay.
  • Reduce the daily minimum engagement of casual employees within both the Joinery and On-Site Awards to 2 hours. 
  • Bring forward the ability for employers and employees to agree to the employee taking time off instead of overtime.

Master Builders has asked that the temporary changes come into effect as soon as possible and operate until 31 December 2020 (unless a further extension is sought).

The matter has been expedited by the Commission, with a directions hearing listed for 9:30am on Monday 1 June before Vice President Adam Hatcher to discuss the proposed timetabling of submissions and scheduling of a hearing date.

Master Builders’ application can be viewed here.

Rebecca Sostarko

Senior Adviser, Safety, Contracts & Workplace Relations

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