Changes to Your Employment & COVID-19
Allied Health Professionals are strongly advised to contact the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA) prior to agreeing to any changes to their employment conditions in response to COVID-19.
Please read the following information carefully.
A number of employers have made major workplace changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes usually relate to rosters, employees’ hours of work, conditions of employment and even workforce numbers.
It is important to note that enterprise agreements and *awards contain terms that oblige your Employer to consult with you on:
- major workplace change; and
- changes to rosters or hours of work.
These terms also provide you with the right to have VAHPA represent you throughout the consultative process.
If you believe your employer is going to make major workplace changes without consultation, please get in touch with VAHPA immediately.
*Nb. Awards are legal documents that outline the minimum pay rates and conditions of employment. If your workplace is covered by a registered enterprise agreement, your award will cease to apply.
Non-COVID related workplace change
VAHPA is of the view that, wherever possible, employers should cease all non-COVID related workplace change during this period.
Reduction in your work hours and/or salary
Your employers cannot make unilateral changes to your employment arrangements.
If for instance you are a full-time employee, your employer cannot unilaterally make you a part-time employee and, by doing so, reduce your hours of work. If you are a part-time employee, your employer cannot unilaterally vary the terms of your employment contract, including your hours of work.
Part-time employees should have written agreement (in your contract, letter of offer or other similar document) on the number of hours you work, your start and finish times and which days you work.
For example, if your contract stipulates that you are employed on a part-time basis at 22.8 hours per week, at 7.6 hours per day, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, your employer could not unilaterally determine that you are no longer required to work on Wednesdays and subsequently advise you that your will only be working 2 days per week from a particular date.
It is important to note that your terms of employment as set out in your contract of employment may not accord with the terms set out in your enterprise agreement or award.
Industrial Relations (or employment relations) is a complicated area of law, with a long and dynamic history. Do not assume that the terms set out in your contract of employment are binding; there are certain standards that no contract can override.
In fact, your employment may be governed by a range of industrial instruments, including the national employment standards, the relevant modern award, earlier awards, your enterprise agreement, your contract of employment, and even workplace policy. The way these documents intersect, and which takes precedence, is no simple matter.
It is always important to contact VAHPA to seek clarification on any advice or direction given to you by your employer, especially if that advice or direction causes you concern.
Requests to reduce your Hours of Work and/or Rate of Pay
VAHPA is aware that some employers are asking employees to agree to reduced hours of work and/or to agree to reduced rates of pay. These requests tend to be set in a narrative that sees employees and employers pulling together to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on the particular business or enterprise.
Employers generally have a right to discuss proposals around workplace change with employees and, as indicated above, are obliged to do so in a broad range of circumstances. It is not acceptable for your employer to attempt to coerce or pressure you into agreeing with any proposal, especially one that sees your wages and/or hours of work diminished.
If you employer proposes to reduce your hours of work, your rate of pay, or any other working conditions, you should make contact with VAHPA immediately. It is useful to have the terms of the proposal in writing wherever possible.
Changes to your Employment & the Implications
Please be aware that any changes to the terms of your employment may have a long-lasting impact. For instance, a shift from full-time employment to part-time employment is likely to see your long service leave reduced; a reduction in your rate of pay will also see the value of your annual leave reduced.
If you are thinking about agreeing to altering the terms of your employment you should set out the terms of that agreement in writing. This should include how long the change will last, what impact that change will have on your accrued and other entitlements, including personal leave, annual leave, long service leave and ‘special leave’, where relevant, as well as confirmation that at the end of the period of change your previous terms and conditions will be restored.
It is also important to understand that agreeing to reduce your hours and/or rate of pay does not protect you or any of your colleagues from subsequent redundancy. And, if you are made redundant, your payout will be calculated on your hours of work and rate of pay at the time your position is made redundant, that is, in accordance with your reduced hours and rate. UNLESS, you reach agreement with your employer, in writing of course, that provides for a redundancy payout at your hours and rate prior to the reduction.
Legal Minimums & the limits of Contracts
Enterprise agreements and awards provide classifications that apply to each employee, according to their role and the work they perform. These classifications set the minimum rates of pay for employees.
An employer and an employee cannot lawfully, even by agreement between them, vary an employee’s salary so that it would be below the minimum rate as set by the employee’s classification as per the applicable enterprise agreement or award.
As such, if you do agree with your employer to reduce your salary, you need to make sure that your rate of pay is not less than the applicable rate of pay that applies to you under your enterprise agreement or award.
What if I don’t want to change my hours or salary?
Many workers simply can’t afford to live on a reduced income. There are many reasons for this, and you should not feel any guilt in standing up for yourself and your family. As noted above, your employer cannot force you to accept a variation to your contract.
There may be circumstances in which employers genuinely need to make changes to ensure the business they run remains viable. This does not negate the obligation to consult with employees and their representative (VAHPA) prior to making workplace change.
Your protections under law
VAHPA understands that certain employers have made claims around the ongoing viability of the business they run and have indicated that they will take steps to shut down, in-part or in-full, including making positions redundant unless employees agree to personally and collectively prop-up the business by reducing their hours and rate of pay.
Legally, you cannot be selected for redundancy or have other “adverse action” taken against you because you do not agree to vary your contract.
Employers may need to make changes to their business in response to the difficult socio-economic environment that we find ourselves in at this time. These changes may in turn affect your terms and conditions as an employee. However, employers and employees are required to comply with the relevant terms of the Act, the relevant enterprise agreement/award, and the employee’s contract of employment.
You cannot be forced to accept a change to your hours and/or rate of pay.
Your employer cannot lawfully take action against you because you refuse to accept changes to the terms of your employment.
Please, contact VAHPA for advice before agreeing, in writing or otherwise, to any changes to the terms of your employment—in relation to COVID-19 or otherwise.
VAHPA appreciates that this is a very difficult time for many in the community, including millions of Australian workers and many small businesses. However, VAHPA doesn’t believe that employees’ reducing their salary or hours is in the best long-term interests of the employees, their employer, healthcare in Australia or society in general.
The above information is general only and it is not to be construed as legal advice. It is impossible to provide advice of this kind in a way that covers every possible circumstance. Your entitlements may vary depending on your enterprise agreement/award, contract of employment and many other factors.
Please get in touch with VAHPA immediately if your employer is proposing or requesting any change to your terms and conditions of employment.
We are in unprecedented times. Things are changing rapidly. VAHPA may need to update this document at some point in the near future to reflect changing circumstances.