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  • HR Heartbeat: Full employment, not working from home, and...

HR Heartbeat: Full employment, not working from home, and...

This week’s HR Heartbeat gives you the definition of full employment, what the consequences of remote workers dropping the productivity ball are, and the mining labour shortage.

First published on Sunday, Sep 03, 2023

Last updated on Friday, Sep 01, 2023

5 min read

Have you heard the latest news?

Everything you need to know about the latest trends impacting employers all over Australia. Keep up to date with the HR Heartbeat.

Let’s get into the headlines.

Full of employment

The Government decided in late July to commit itself (and future governments) to delivering full employment.

Wondering what that is? We’ll tell you. It basically means that people can find employment without searching for too long. The ideal goal is a balance between the supply and demand of labour with inflation holding steady at a set target. This aligns with the government’s objective to combat unemployment.

Underemployment, however, can’t be forgotten. This is when employees are in less than full-time or regular jobs, or jobs that don’t meet their training or economic needs.

So, while the full employment initiative could help bring unemployment down, it may not completely resolve workforce dependencies on the government.

The treasurer is yet to determine what these targets should be, or what will be done to deliver them through workplace reforms. So, stay tuned!

Working from home

In case you missed it, here’s a Fair Work Commission case you’re going to want to hear about.

This employee was dismissed from her work-from-home role for not working.

She worked for the company for 10 years, but since the start of COVID-19, her drop in productivity couldn’t be ignored. The employee missed deadlines, was unreachable, and even made a mistake that resulted in the company receiving a $1,000 fine. Yup.

Given how long she had been with the company, instead of outrightly firing her, the employer put her on a performance improvement plan. Failing to take the hint, the employee only tracked 34 keystrokes an hour throughout the 3 months of the improvement plan.

Predictably, a disciplinary process took place and the employee’s only defence was that the data was wrong. Her employment was terminated, she brought a claim against her employer that was promptly dismissed, and that’s where the story ends.

So, it seems the Fair Work Commission is on the side of businesses when it comes to making sure workers are productive during working hours.

Ask BrightLightning:

*My employee has been working from home for a lengthy period and is refusing to return to work in the office when directed. What can I do? Do I need to consider a flexible working arrangement request for an employee requesting to work from home (WFH)? What are the disadvantages to working from home? *

Yours, mines, and no miners

There’s no doubt that when it comes to industries that are the backbone of Australia’s economy, mining tops the list.

But this vital industry is buckling under labour shortages. In Western Australia alone, there are ongoing mining projects or projects yet to be scheduled that are worth nearly $150 billion!

A labour market forecast estimates that the current shortage sits at about 28,000 workers, and is likely to grow to 36,500 workers by 2025 as the industry continues to peak.

So mining is facing a question that’s on many industry minds, where will employers find workers?

Award ignorance is not bliss

At least not in this underpayment case involving six migrant workers. They were subcontracted to work on a casual basis at a recycling facility between 2018 and 2019.

The workers were paid a flat rate of $22 an hour regardless of their hours. While this can look like a fair deal on paper, it fell short of the Waste Management Award’s minimum wage. Their award also entitled them to casual loading, shift loading, and overtime rates that they also weren’t paid during their employment.

How much do the employers owe their former employees? $194,249.70 in unpaid wages. That means they were only paid 53-58% of their entitlements.

Look, we’ve heard enough about underpayments to know that there are many reasons why they happen. One of the main ones being ignorance of the award, which looks like it may have been the case here since the businesses admitted to the allegations.

Ignorance wasn’t bliss for the employers, the judge handed down penalties totalling $375,515 and said, “It is also apparent that [the] decision to pay the Relevant Employees a flat rate of pay for all hours worked, regardless of how many they totalled or at what times that work occurred was wantonly naïve, at best. At worst, it involved a *deliberate and cavalier disregard of important Award safety net obligations*.”

Another reminder to employers that following awards is the only way to operate.

Ask BrightLightning: Are the rates in awards before tax? What is a Modern Award? When did Modern Awards come into effect? What is a national minimum wage order?

That wraps up this edition of HR Heartbeat. Stay tuned for more headlines and all the latest updates that will keep you in the know with all the major employment changes coming your way.

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