Coronavirus: Employer group slams ‘unfair’ Fair Work ruse by unions

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox.

Employers have accused unions of encouraging workers to reject the government’s $130bn JobKeeper program so they can avoid orders to work fewer hours or from a ­different location.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox is calling for the “serious problem” to be fixed when the Morrison governm­ent reviews the wage subsidy­ scheme — which has six million registered employees — at the end of next month.

Mr Willox warned that eligible employers could not issue temporary standdown directions under the Fair Work Act to change the number of hours worked by an employee if they had not nomin­ated to participate in the JobKeeper program. An employer would also be unable to alter someone’s usual duties or location of work.

“It creates two different sets of industrial relations arrangements across the economy and within many workplaces,” Mr Willox told The Australian.

“It means there is an incentive for employees not to agree for their employer to nominate them (for JobKeeper), to avoid the greater flexibilities available under the changes to the Fair Work Act.

“Amending the JobKeeper ­provisions so they apply in respect of employees who would be eligible for JobKeeper except for the fact that they have withheld their agreement to be nominated would address this anomaly.”

Mr Willox, whose peak industry association represents more than 60,000 businesses and one million staff, said the Ai Group had received many calls from companies concerned about staff refusing to sign JobKeeper forms, to ­circumvent the Fair Work Act changes. While the Ai Group declined­ to name the affected industrie­s or the unions their members claimed were responsible, Mr Willox said there were examples­ of employees demanding to be paid $1500 on top of their normal wage in return for signing on to JobKeeper.

Workers had also used the nomination form as a lever to gain concessions in enterprise bargaining negotiations or insist their employer­ would not issue standdown orders before agreeing to nominate for the scheme.

Sources in the business community said there had been examples of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union urging workers not to sign the JobKeeper nomination form.

CFMEU construction and ­general national secretary Dave Noonan said he had not heard of his members behaving in that way. He said the union and employer groups had helped fill out thousands of JobKeeper applications and had “saved hundreds of thousands of jobs”.

“Ai Group have not been playing any role in the industry at this crucial time, so we’d be happy to hear from them if they’ve got any concerns,” Mr Noonan said.

The ACTU declined to comment­ when asked if it was aware of the issue or wanted to respond to the Ai Group’s concerns.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said it would be immensely disappointing if any union sought to prevent employers who had experienced a significant downturn in business during the coronavirus pandemic from accessing “vital government ­support” through the JobKeeper scheme.

“Throughout this crisis to date there has been extraordinary co-operation between employee and employer representatives. I would hope that goodwill is not undermined by the actions of a few ­people,” Mr Porter said.