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Young Workers Centre YWC
News from young workers

YWC on Triple J Hack: Can you afford coronavirus?

At the moment the news is dominated by discussion around COVID-19 and how it will impact our communities, our health and our work.

Our Director, Felicity Sowerbutts, spoke to Triple J Hack this week about your rights at work should you have to take an extended period of time off work. Here’s what she had to say:

What rights do you have as a casual?

There are 3.3 million Australian workers with no access to paid leave, that’s 32% of the workforce. We know that many of these are young workers.

14 days is a long time to be without a pay check when you have rent to pay and food to put on the table.

Having said that employers are required to provide healthy and safe workplaces, so far as practically reasonable.

Employers should be encouraging workers to self-report exposure to COVID-19 and ensure there are no barriers or disincentives to reporting.

It’s also just been announced that Woolworths will pay casual staff for the shifts they would have otherwise worked during the period they have to self-isolate. We strongly encourage other businesses to take this measure to ensure workers can get by during this time.

Workers should not be discriminated for flagging exposure or infection. For instance, if your shifts dry up once you are fit to work again you may have an argument to make under General Protections.

How can you be prepared?

We recommend all workers join together now to ask their employer how they intend to deal with the impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak and leave provisions.

Where possible you could canvas other options, such as working from home or special paid leave provisions that can be extended to you.

We recommend workers speak to their boss as a collective because this is the least daunting and most useful approach.

If you are a full time or part time employee can your boss force you to work less hours per week?

Employers cannot unilaterally amend your contract, so if you are employed for 5 days per week you are entitled to be paid for 5 days per week.

Can your boss force you to take annual leave?

Annual leave is specifically for the purpose of leisure. It is not to be used when a worker is unfit for work.

The only time an employer can force you to take annual leave is if you have built up ‘excessive leave’ which is more than 8 weeks of accrued annual leave. We know that most young workers haven’t been in the workforce or a job long enough to have built up 8 weeks of leave!

Have more questions?

The situation is ever-changing and you don’t need to navigate it alone. If you have more questions, call your union or you can call us at the Young Workers Centre on 1800 714 754.

It’s never been a more important time to be a union member. COVID-19 is a new situation and our industrial and employment laws don’t deal with it, but having the support of a union sets you and your workmates up to navigate complex issues like this.