Responding to the IR Minister’s request of late last year, the FWC has introduced certain flexibilities into the Retail award and is about to do the same to the Restaurants award. While the request and the reaction to it arose because of the pandemic, the flexibilities themselves make sense regardless of current circumstances and have been a feature of enterprise agreements for the past 25 years.
In Retail, adopting a mechanism that has been called ‘flex-up’ in the past, employers and employees can agree to ad hoc changes to what are otherwise fixed work schedules for part timers. The requirements for strict adherence to regular start/finish times have been eased. So for example, a part time employee can agree to a request to work extra hours and not be paid overtime, but to have the extra time treated as ordinary time. The pay-off is that those extra hours are included for the purposes of accruals, like annual leave.
The way this can be done has been simplified too, so that an exchange of text messages would suffice to meet the variation requirements – that is, the red-tape of recording changes to agreed hours or patterns of hours is reduced.
Vitally for some retailers, the FWC also sanctioned an employer’s right to alter an agreed pattern of a part timer’s hours on seven days noticed, or in an emergency, 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the FWC has given an indication of strong support for the Restaurants award to be varied to include streamlined classifications, exemptions from certain award conditions for higher paid staff (like chefs) and all-in allowances aimed at simplifying the rules for this industry sector.
For many employers in the trade, the ability to wrap up a raft of allowances into a single additional hourly rate add-on will bring administrative simplicity and peace of mind about award observance none too soon.
The major industrial parties worked with the FWC to reach close to a consensus position on these key reforms and a final decision on the shape and detail of the changes is not far away.