Business owners should be aware of the Fair Work Commission’s recent review of Modern Awards, which could affect their business practises.  

Business owners should be aware that the Fair Work Commission (FWC)’s four-yearly provisional review of Modern Awards in September 2018 has seen a number of changes coming into effect this year.

In terms of our industry, the changes – which have been in effect from December 1, 2018 – affect those employees covered by the Pest Control Industry Award, which includes licensed and unlicensed pest control technicians, qualified pest inspectors, and fumigators. The Award also covers labour hire businesses and their employees who are placed with an organisation in the pest control industry. The three key changes to employer obligations are outlined below.

Casual conversion

A significant change is the introduction of ‘casual conversion’, a move that aims to reduce the use of ongoing casual employment that is widespread across many industries. It gives a casual employee the right to request that their employment is converted to part-time or full-time permanent employment, provided that they have been working as a ‘regular casual employee’ for at least 12 months.

Employers can refuse the request, but only on specific grounds, such as if the employee’s work hours are likely to be reduced within the next 12 months, or if the change to permanent employment would require a significant change to the employee’s hours of work. Any employer who fails to provide the employee with written notice of the refusal could see the issue escalated to the Fair Work Commission.

Flexible working arrangements

With a global shift towards more flexible working practices, the FWC has added a new clause into Modern Awards that aims to help employees strike a balance between work and home life. Employers are now under obligation to discuss flexible working strategies with any employee who makes the request for flexible working hours and there must be a genuine attempt to reach an agreeable solution. An employer who refuses the request must provide a written response outlining the reason for the refusal.

It should be noted that an employee may want to dispute the reasons given for refusing flexible working arrangements, but they can only dispute the validity of the process – not the grounds for refusal itself.

Termination payments

Under most Modern Awards, employers must now pay employees any amount owed within seven days after their employment termination date. This sounds simple enough, but before the change came into effect on November 1, 2018, the timeframe for final payment varied greatly between industries.

The only exception to the seven-day termination payment rule is where there is a dispute about the wages owed, or amounts to be deducted. In this case, employers should contact the FWC to defer the terms of the Award until the matter is resolved. If there is a dispute and the employer does not contact the FWC – and employee pay is found to be withheld – it can result in penalties for the employer, as they have breached the regulations of the Modern Award.

Keeping up to date with employer obligations can be challenging. Business owners looking for further information can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website, which offers free information and advice in plain English to both employers and employees.

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