Supporting the independent education community

IEU advice for ELICOS members

The current COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health emergency, causing great destruction and disruption to all areas of life. This is especially so in the post secondary college sector, including English, Business and VET colleges.

It is likely that some post secondary colleges will attempt some radical measures in an attempt to keep businesses viable, but members should be aware that their legal entitlements remain largely the same as before, including that:

  • Award pay rates and conditions cannot be unilaterally reduced;
  • Enterprise Agreement pay rates and conditions cannot be unilaterally reduced;
  • Ongoing (permanent) employees are entitled to retain their existing status.

Australian Governments have put together a suite of measures to mitigate the worse economic effects of the crisis, and most of these should apply to most employers in the post secondary college sector.

JobKeeper allowance
The JobKeeper allowance passed through the Federal Parliament on 8 April, and it is basically a subsidy to employers to keep existing employees in work.
The highlights include:

  • The subsidy is worth $1500 per fortnight, and is required to be passed on to employees in full. It is payable from 30 March, 2020.
  • Eligible employers are those with an annual turnover of $1 billion and can estimate that their turnover has fallen or will fall by at least 30% (those with a turnover above $1 billion must show a fall in revenue of at least 50%).
  • Eligible employees can be a full time or part time employee or a casual employed on a regular and systematic basis for at least 12 months as at 1 March, 2020. Employees must be an Australian citizen or Permanent Resident.
  • More details can be found here: https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-04/JobKeeper_frequently_asked_questions.pdf

JobSeeker allowance
In March, the Federal Government rolled the existing NewStart payment (along with several other welfare payments) into a new benefit called JobSeeker, and a short term increase in the payment was applied for the next six months.
The highlights include:

  • The weekly payment is $550, a big increase from the previous NewStart payment (this will revert back in September).
  • The payment has been extended to: permanent employees who are stood down or lose their employment; sole traders; the self-employed; casual workers; and contract workers (income and asset tests still apply).
  • Centrelink will streamline application processes and wait periods.
  • Job seeking requirements have been relaxed.

Award changes
The Federal Government has also facilitated temporary changes to Fair Work Act, which allow employers to lawfully changes workers’ hours, days, duties and location. There have also been changes to the award providing for two weeks of unpaid COVID-19 leave, and the ability to access annual leave at half pay (and so it lasts for twice as long).

The changes to the Act have been negotiated with the ACTU (among other stakeholders), and while not all union concerns were met, the changes do have the following safeguards:

  • Strictly time-limited for six months.
  • Applies only to employers eligible for the JobKeeper payment;
  • Protects the rate of pay for workers ensuring they are properly paid for all work undertaken at the legal hourly rate of pay, not artificially capped at the $1500/fortnight wage subsidy; 
  • Allows variation in working conditions only after consultation and in many cases requires the agreement of employees; and
  • Allows any dispute to be arbitrated by the Fair Work Commission “to ensure reasonableness and fairness."

Your union will continue to lobby on your behalf for further benefits. Thanks to all members
for your support of your Union.