9 January 2020

Anthony Forsyth says Australian labour law is unbalanced in its treatment of emergency situations: “[T]here is no specific form of leave available to an employee whose house has been burnt down. They would have to rely on other forms of leave in these circumstances, such as annual leave or (if applicable) personal/carer’s leave. … In contrast, under the Fair Work Act, business owners have the right to stand down staff without pay where work must stop due to circumstances beyond the employer’s control — such as the impact of bushfires.” Volunteer firefighters aren’t much better off, with the Act only allowing unpaid leave for a “reasonable” time, to be negotiated with their boss at the time of the emergency. Union-negotiated EBAs often include stronger clauses, such as guaranteed paid leave, but this “patchwork” is increasingly inadequate as bushfire seasons intensify. Forsyth notes: “Some union leaders, such as Godfrey Moase of the United Workers Union, have therefore called for the Fair Work Act to be amended to ensure that all workers have the right to paid emergency services leave as part of the National Employment Standards. It seems like a necessary step that will ensure all in the community are bearing the increasingly heavy load presented by the bushfire season beginning earlier and lasting longer than in years past.”