Attention Western Australian employers! State revives unpaid pandemic leave

Industrial Relations Commission's move to address the current COVID-19 outbreak

Attention Western Australian employers! State revives unpaid pandemic leave

The Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) has recently issued an order reinstating the state’s unpaid pandemic leave.

The IRC’s move was reportedly done in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak in Western Australia. The IRC in Court Session revived parts of the 2020 COVID-19 General Order, with amendments to accommodate new isolation requirements.

What was the 2020 COVID-19 General Order?

In April 2020, the IRC in Court Session issued the COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order under the state’s Industrial Relations Act which had provisions for unpaid pandemic leave and the taking of annual leave at half pay. On 31 March last year, the said order ceased to be effective.

State’s revival of certain provisions

However, in March of this year, WA’s Minister for Industrial Relations applied for a new General Order for private sector employees due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in the state. The Minister applied to reinstate the unpaid pandemic leave provisions that were granted in 2020. The application contained the following:

  • Seeking to address the regulatory gap for private sector State system employees who are required to isolate due to COVID-19 and may lack access to suitable leave entitlements
  • Supporting public health objectives
  • Providing clarity for many employers, and protection for employee entitlements; and
  • To be consistent with the entitlement to unpaid pandemic leave for national system employees covered by certain modern awards.

The Minister also proposed revisions to amend the 2020 order that would enable an employee to take up to two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave. It would be “a cumulative entitlement, over more than one period, subject to the total period of unpaid pandemic leave taken not exceeding two weeks.” Under the proposal, it was also made clear that the leave available would be labelled as an “unpaid pandemic leave.”

The Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s decision

The IRC noted its purpose when it issued the 2020 General Order. It said that it aims to “assist businesses to continue to operate and to preserve employment.” It also sought the “continuity of employment for the benefit of those businesses, their employees and the economy generally.”

In considering the circumstances of this year, the IRC in Court Session considered that reinstatement of the provisions with amendments were consistent with the objectives of the state’s IR Act. Thus, a General Order was issued which also accommodated the Minister’s proposal.

When is the amended General Order effective?

It will operate until 30 September 2022 and may be extended on application by a party or at the IRC’s initiative.

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