Ai Group backs care sector employers facing Award changes

The Australian Industry Group is continuing its support of employers covered by the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010.

Ai Group’s lawyers appeared before a Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission on Friday 6 August 2021 to argue for a 12-month delay to a raft of significant changes to the Award coming into effect.

These include implementing a minimum payment of two hours for part-time and casual employees, as well as limiting the use of “broken shifts” that allow an employee to be engaged to work at different times over the course of a day.

Currently, there is no minimum period for which a part-time worker covered by the Award must be engaged or paid, and many casual employees are permitted to be engaged on one-hour shifts. As a result, many employees are engaged under the Award to work short shifts that match the needs of NDIS participants and people receiving aged care in their homes.

The Fair Work Commission had foreshadowed implementing these changes as soon as 1 October this year.

Brent Ferguson, Director – Major Cases at Ai Group, said the organisation pressed for sensible transitional arrangements that would delay the commencement of the changes for at least 12 months from the date they are finalised.

“This is to give employers time to engage with their employees and clients, to try to work out a way to implement the changes. The reforms are going to necessitate major alterations to the way many employers operate,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Employers, many of whom are not-for-profit organisations, have said they can’t make the operational changes needed within the timeframe contemplated by the Commission, that the changes will result in cost increases that aren’t funded and that they’ll need time to adjust their payroll and rostering systems.”

Mr Ferguson said the proposed changes conflicted with the needs of clients, who required help with tasks such as meal preparation, getting dressed and shopping for much shorter periods of time than the proposed minimum payment periods.

“A key principle underpinning the NDIS and the regulation of aged care services is a focus on consumer-directed care. The intention is to give clients choice and control over how they receive care and support. The client says when they want support,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Even if the Award says that an employee must be paid for a minimum of two hours, clients won’t want to use their funding to give those employees two hours of work when they only need half an hour of support.

“The changes put employers in a very difficult position because they are out of step with existing, client-directed arrangements. Employers need time to work out how they will reconcile their obligations to the clients they support with these new requirements.”

Michael Mead, Head of Consulting and Legal Services for Ai Group, said this was a significant case for employers in the sector and reflected Ai Group’s capability to run major cases with far-reaching consequences.

“The modeling and assumptions underpinning funding in this sector don’t account for any of the increased costs that employers will face because of the changes,” Mr Mead said.

“We’re saying that because employers are largely dependent on funding and are limited in their ability to charge higher prices for their services, there needs to be a window of time so that the funding can potentially align with these increases.”

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Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a former journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.

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