2. State Aid
Government subsidies and special relief resources allocated to support employers, and workers, in their efforts to maintain employment and pull through the crisis.
- The Fair Work Commission has, on application by the parties, introduced variations to some industry-specific Modern Awards, for example, the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010, the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010, and the Restaurant Industry Award 2010. The variations provide increased flexibility for employers and employees during the COVID-19 crisis, including allowing for flexible “working from home” arrangements, leave entitlements and work hours.
- On 8 April 2020, the Australian Federal Parliament passed the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020 (Cth) and the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020 (Cth), introducing temporary amendments to the FW Act to allow employers to change workplace arrangements and claim “JobKeeper payments”, this being a fortnightly $1,500 JobKeeper payment for each eligible employee, until business conditions improve.
- On 8 April 2020, the Fair Work Commission varied 99 awards by inserting a new Schedule dealing with “Additional measures during the COVID-19 pandemic” under section 157 of the FW Act. These variations entitle employees to take two weeks unpaid pandemic leave if required, by government or medical authorities or acting on medical advice, to self-isolate or is otherwise prevented from working by measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the variations entitle employees to take twice the amount of their annual leave at half pay by agreement with their employer.
- The Australian Federal Government has established a $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to provide tailored support to communities and industries disproportionately affected. Support provided by the Fund is targeted towards initiatives supporting industries including aviation, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and the arts. Available support may include fee or levy relief, increasing payments through existing grant programs and establishing targeted new programs to support the particular needs of an industry sector.
- On 2 April 2020, the Australian Government announced the new Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package. From 6 April 2020, weekly payments have been made directly to early childhood education and care services in lieu of the Child Care Subsidy and the Additional Child Care Subsidy, to help them keep their doors open and employees in their jobs.
A number of these provisions are time-limited and are due to be reviewed in September 2020 at the latest. Some changes have already been announced.