Striking a balance

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has responded to the ACTU’s claim for employees to be able to dictate both the number of hours they work including their start and finish times. 

According to deputy director of Workplace Relations Alana Matheson the ACTU’s claim is unworkable and it ignores arrangements already in place for parents and carers to request reduced hours and negotiate practical, workable arrangements with their employers. 

"The ACTU’s claim is for employees with caring responsibilities, most of the workforce, to be able to decrease their hours at will, and change the days, and times of day they work - there would be no right for employers to say no or explore other options,” said Matheson. 

"This would make it impossible for employers to manage rosters, and it would hit small businesses hardest. While flexibility in the workplace is important, for flexibility to genuinely support Australians managing work and parenting/caring, it has to be practical and balanced. 

"Employees already have the right to request reduced hours when they have parenting or caring responsibilities and the ACTU’s own data reportedly shows that in the vast majority of cases, employers agree to these requests,” said Matheson. 

Under the ACTU’s proposal: 

  • Employers have no choice but to accept an employee’s chosen hours, even where this would be at odds with customer needs. This fails the common sense test.
  • Where it is possible for employers to hire someone to cover those hours, that person could then lose their job at any time when the existing employee chooses to return to full-time work, up to 18 years later. 

"The ACTU’s proposal is not for discussion or negotiation, it’s a claim for an unbalanced and impractical change to our workplace relations system.”   

"The Australian Chamber and its members will be opposing the ACTU claim and standing up to ensure practical, balanced, workable options are available to Australia’s parents and carers, and their employers, to work together.” 

The Fair Work Commission is currently considering an ACTU claim to include new provisions in almost all modern awards that would give some employees with parenting or caring responsibilities a right to determine their days of work and starting and finishing times.

An employee with parenting responsibilities would also have a right to revert to their former working hours up until the child is school aged or at a later time by agreement. This could be any time between when the child is born up until they are 18 years of age 

Under the ACTU claim an employee with caring responsibilities would have a right to revert to their former working hours for a period not exceeding two years from the date of the commencement of change in hours, or at a later time by agreement. 

The ACTU argue that an employee has ‘caring responsibilities’ if the employee is responsible for providing personal care, support and assistance to another individual who needs it on an ongoing or indefinite basis because that other individual: 

(a) has a disability; or

(b) has a medical condition (including a terminal or chronic illness); or

(c) has a mental illness; or

(d) is frail and aged. 

To be entitled to reduce hours under this clause, an employee would be required to have completed at least six months continuous service with the employer. Of significance, the employer would not have a right of refusal.

 Image sourced from Flickr cc: Markus Grossalber

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