February 19, 2021 | Federation Administration
The pandemic has brought significant changes to the way we work, from remote work and essential workers to the ongoing tests of whether mask-wearing, COVID-testing and vaccinations can be deemed a ‘reasonable and lawful direction’ at work.
Throughout the pandemic, JobWatch saw a significant increase in the number of calls to their free and confidential Telephone Information and Referral Service (TIS) from workers in Victoria, Queensland and Victoria who were experiencing challenges to their rights at work. This increase actually led to the creation of a new category in their database – “COVID-19 related” issues.
“Stand down directions, the JobKeeper subsidy, work from home orders, requests for flexible work, redundancies and dismissals, these were all issues that people were calling our TIS for legal information,” said Zana Bytheway, Executive Director of JobWatch.
To date, JobWatch has taken over 3,400 calls about employment rights issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of these calls were taken in the first three months of the pandemic.
This included callers like Tony, a retail assistant who had been working with his employer for over eight years. He was stood down during the pandemic and then made redundant without receiving his redundancy pay. JobWatch assisted Tony with information on how he could recover the 14 weeks of redundancy pay and pay in lieu of four weeks notice that was owing to him.
Other workers found themselves affected by the lockdown measures and travel restrictions of the pandemic. Casey was on a career break from her employer, travelling around Europe when the pandemic hit. Unable to secure flights back to Australia, her return-to-work date was extended twice, then she was made redundant. JobWatch assisted Casey with information about how to file an unfair dismissal claim on the grounds that the dismissal in the circumstances was ‘harsh, unjust and unreasonable’.
To support workers affected by the pandemic, JobWatch created online resources using data and information tracked through the TIS to answer the most common questions, which helped to alleviate the number of calls received. This included queries about the JobKeeper scheme such as payment and directions from employers, health and safety concerns, and discrimination.
These resources were met with outstanding support, leading to 54,000 page views on the website in April 2020 compared to 8,000 page views in April 2019.
Media advocacy and awareness is a significant part of JobWatch’s work, and during the pandemic, they featured in news stories including:
- Employers accused of using COVID-19 as an excuse to dismiss people unlawfully
- Sally wants to know if her employer can change her work hours under JobKeeper. Here's what two experts say
- Can You Refuse To Return To Work After Coronavirus Restrictions Ease?
- JobKeeper explained: What your boss can and cannot ask you to do
- How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting temporary visa workers
Though the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccination program promises to bring an end to the pandemic in Australia, Ms. Bytheway believes that the impact on Australian workers will linger for years to come.
“The ongoing economic impact of the pandemic and upcoming end to JobKeeper is likely to spruik a second wave of non-JobKeeper Stand-Down directions and redundancies as employers struggle to reconcile their balance sheet with employee rights,” she says.
“Combined with the growing attention on the gig economy and casualisation of our workforce, protection of worker’s rights is more critical than ever.”