Employers slam ACTU’s WFH ‘cash grab’

ACTU secretary Sally Mc­Manus. Picture: AAP
ACTU secretary Sally Mc­Manus. Picture: AAP

Employers have slammed an ACTU push to have companies pay an upfront allowance to cover the work related expenses of employees working from home as an “unreasonable cash grab”.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group criticised the new ACTU working from home charter that also proposes employer pay to insure equipment used by ­employees working remotely.

The charter proposes a body to ensure the “ethical” use of data collected about employees working from home, the ­appointment of union delegates to represent remote workers, and the ability to have disputes over remote work arbitrated.

ACTU secretary Sally Mc­Manus said unions would ­initially seek an agreement with employers in heavily unionised workplaces to implement the charter as company policy before seeking to have it incorporated into enterprise agreements when they were renegotiated.

ACCI chief executive James Pearson said the “adversarial” charter risked derailing the widespread commitment of employers and employees to communicate and work together on working from home arrangements.

“Hundreds of thousands of Australian employers and employees have successfully co-operated and agreed to change how and where they work during the pandemic,” he said.

“Many employees value working from home, benefiting from reduced commute time, saving on transport costs, improved job satisfaction and increased flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities. The ACTU’s new claim and charter puts all of that at risk.”

Given the charter proposes working from home must be voluntary, Mr Pearson said the ACTU wanted to gift employees a unilateral right to dictate that they work from home while forcing employers to pay for this choice.

“Spruiking an ‘allowance’ to work from home at a time when people in businesses around the country are on these knees, is taking advantage of the crisis to make unreasonable demands on those who can least afford it,” he said.

“This is not the time to be blind to the serious ongoing economic threat to jobs by calling for more money and placing more demands and restrictions on employers.”

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said adopting the charter would require employers to pay a long list of employee expenses including water, electricity, gas, stationery, equipment, amenities, telephone and internet.

However, any balanced discussion about employee costs should take into account the savings on petrol, parking, tolls and public transport associated with working from home,” he said.

“Employees who are working from home are entitled to claim 80c per hour as a tax deduction.

“The reality is that a large proportion of white collar employees want to work from home for at least part of the time, and employers are typically endeavouring to accommodate the needs of employees to the extent that operational requirements permit this.”

Mr Willox said union pursuit of the charter in workplaces would likely discourage employers from continuing with working from home arrangements once the pandemic was over.

“There has been great co-operation over working from home and you’d hope that can continue as a hybrid model takes hold but, as usual, unions are seeking to impose centralised rigidities and constraints on employer/employee co-operation.”

He said the ACTU’s adversarial approach risks the widespread co-operation that is occurring between employers and employees regarding working from home arrangements.

“An employer that agrees to the ACTU’s charter would be committing to let all suitable workers work from home,” he said. “Employers need to maintain the right to require employees to work in offices and other workplaces, consistent with the operational requirements of their businesses.”