What might the new casual conversion provisions mean for business?

As part of the 4 yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission has decided to insert casual conversion provisions into the 85 modern awards that currently do not have provisions of this sort.

These provide a right for casual employees engaged on a regular and systematic basis to apply for conversion to full-time or part-time employment subject to a number of conditions as follows:

  • a qualifying period of 12 calendar months;
  • a qualifying criterion that the casual employee has over the qualifying period worked a pattern of hours on an ongoing basis which, without significant adjustment, could continue to be performed in accordance with the full-time or part-time employment provisions of the relevant award;
  • the employer must provide all casual employees (whether they become eligible for conversion or not) with a copy of the casual conversion clause within the first 12 months after their initial engagement; and
  • a conversion may be refused on the grounds that:
    • it would require a significant adjustment to the casual employee’s hours of work to accommodate them in full-time or part-time employment in accordance with the terms of the applicable modern
      award, or
    • it is known or reasonably foreseeable that the casual employee’s position will cease to exist, or
    • the employee’s hours of work will significantly change or be reduced within the next 12 months, or
    • on other reasonable grounds based on facts which are known or reasonably foreseeable.

Please note that, at this point in time, awards have not been varied and the decision is therefore not operational.

Where this decision differs from  casual conversion provisions that are already in other modern awards is that:

  • the qualifying period is commonly 6 months rather than the 12 month period stated in the new decision
  • the relevant awards have a statement that an employer “must not unreasonably refuse” a request for conversion but there is no reference to the sorts of circumstances that might reasonably justify refusal (as set out in the new decision)
  • there are some variances in procedural requirements between the old and the new
  • existing casual conversion provisions continue to have force.

So what does it all mean?

Regardless of the industry you are in, every employer who has casual employees working regular and systematic hours over a prolonged period of time should review those arrangements and consider whether the past/existing working pattern and foreseeable future working pattern would justify conversion to full-time or part-time employment.

There is also a concern that, while an employee in a small business (less than 15 employees) is not eligible to make a claim of unfair dismissal until they have completed 12 months service (or 6 months in the case of larger businesses), there could be a spike in General Protection/Adverse Action claims where an employee exercises or intends to exercise their right to request casual conversion and perceives that they are disadvantaged because of that request or intention (eg in reduction of hours, variation of shifts to interrupt a regular working pattern or even discontinuation of employment). There is no qualifying period for these types of claims so employers beware.

The final point that we wish to make here is that security of employment is a significant issue in our community today and that is a key factor in attracting and retaining good people who’ll do a good job for you. If you want a great business, trust them and give them that security.

Fair Work changes from 1 July 2017

There are a number of changes that have come into being from 1 July 2017 as a result of the 2016-2017 Annual Wage Review which increased the National Minimum Wage and award rates by 3.3% and other decisions made by the Fair Work Commission.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has produced an up to date set of Pay Guides for all modern awards which can be accessed here.

These guides have also factored in the first phase of reductions in penalty rates that have occurred in a number of retail and hospitality industry awards but please note that unions have appealed that decision and these proceedings commenced in the Federal Court this week.

Additionally, the following flow on increases have occurred.

The High Income Threshold

The new High Income Threshold is $142,000 per annum.

Employees who accept an employer guarantee of annual earnings of greater than this amount do not have access to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction.

This also raises the maximum compensation that can be awarded in an unfair dismissal case to $71,000 (6 months’ wages).

Fair Work Information Statement

Under National Employment Standards, all new employees must be provided with a Fair Work Information Statement which explains a range of workplace rights and where to go for assistance with those.

This has been updated and the new version that must be provided to new employees from 1 July 2017 can be accessed below.

Fair-Work-Information-Statement – 010717

Penalties for Fair Work Breaches

The maximum penalties for breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 and modern awards have been increased to:

  • For corporate entities, $63,000 per offence
  • For individuals, $12,600 per offence

It should be noted that, in legislation currently before the Parliament (which is now in recess), these penalties are targeted to increase tenfold.

 

Penalty rates decision to be phased in

The Fair Work Commission has announced transitional arrangements for implementing the recent decisions to reduce penalty rates for work on Sundays and Public Holidays across a variety of awards.

Sunday penalty rates

The reductions in Sunday penalty rates are being phased in in annual instalments over 3 to 4 years depending on the award and are timed to occur on 1 July at the same time as any increases in award wages occurring from the Annual Wage Review process. The schedule for each award is as follows.

Fast Food Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees – Level 1 only

1 July 2017: 150 per cent > 145 per cent

1 July 2018: 145 per cent >135 per cent

1 July 2019: 135 per cent >125 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading) – Level 1 only

1 July 2017: 175 per cent > 170 per cent

1 July 2018: 170 per cent > 160 per cent

1 July 2019: 160 per cent > 150 per cent

Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 175 per cent > 170 per cent

1 July 2018: 170 per cent > 160 per cent

1 July 2019: 160 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees – unchanged at 175% including casual loading

General Retail Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 180 per cent

1 July 2019: 180 per cent > 165 per cent

1 July 2020: 165 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading)

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 185 per cent

1 July 2019: 185 per cent > 175 per cent

Pharmacy Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 180 per cent

1 July 2019: 180 per cent > 165 per cent

1 July 2020: 165 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading)

1 July 2017: 225 per cent > 220 per cent

1 July 2018: 220 per cent > 205 per cent

1 July 2019: 205 per cent > 190 per cent

1 July 2020: 190 per cent > 175 per cent

Public Holiday penalty rates

This decision effects the above 4 awards plus the Restaurant Industry Award 2010.

In all of these awards , the penalty rate for work on a public holiday is changed with effected from 1 July 2017 to

Full-time/part-time:  225%

Casual:  250%

One of the reasons given for phasing in the Sunday penalty rate cuts over such a prolonged period was that “take home pay” orders would not be an available option for workers whose take home pay was reduced as a result of implementation of this decision. The FWC’s rationale is that annual wage increases will significantly, if not totally, offset reductions in penalty rates.

This is likely to be a factor in future Annual Wage Reviews.

It is understood that some unions may seek judicial review of the penalty rates decision and, should that occur, it is possible that implementation could be further delayed.