Vehicle Award changes during coronavirus

Published 12 May 2020

On 11 May 2020, the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) made a determination external-icon.png varying the Vehicle Award. The determination inserted a temporary new Schedule J, which applies from an employee’s first full pay period on or after 11 May 2020 until 30 June 2020.

Schedule J changes the following award provisions during the coronavirus outbreak:

The Commission can extend when Schedule J operates until, if an application is made by an interested party. We'll update our information if that happens.

Use Find my award if you’re not sure which award applies to you.

Who does it apply to?

The following changes under Schedule J apply to employees engaged in vehicle industry repair, services and retail work, under Section 1 of the Vehicle Award.

They don’t apply to employees engaged in vehicle manufacturing under sections 2-4 of the Vehicle Award (i.e. vehicle manufacturing employees, drafting, planning and technical employees and supervisory employees). This is because from 29 May 2020 the Manufacturing Award will cover these employees. Go to Changes in awards in 2020 to learn more about coverage changes to the Vehicle Award.

The new Schedule J also doesn’t apply to employers who qualify for the JobKeeper scheme in relation to their eligible employees. For information about the JobKeeper scheme, see JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.

Also on this page:

Unpaid pandemic leave

On 8 April 2020, the Commission inserted provisions for taking unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave at half pay into the Vehicle Award. See Unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave changes in awards.

Change in duties

Under Schedule J, employers can direct vehicle industry repair, services and retail employees to perform different duties.

Employers can tell these employees to do any tasks that they have the skill and competency for, even if those tasks aren’t in their usual classification or normal work. The tasks need to be safe and within the employer’s operations. The employee also needs to have all the appropriate licenses and qualifications to perform the tasks.

When an employee works at a higher classification, the employer needs to pay them at the higher rate for the hours worked.

Employees who do tasks below their usual classification are still paid at their usual pay rate.

Any direction or request given by an employer under Schedule J needs to:

  • be in writing
  • be reasonable in the circumstances
  • say that the employer agrees to the Commission dealing with any disputes about the direction.

An employee who is directed to do different duties returns to their usual duties if:

  • Schedule J stops operating
  • they agree with their employer to return to usual duties, or
  • the employer revokes the direction.

Full-time and part-time employees’ hours of work

Under Schedule J, employers can temporarily reduce a full-time and part-time employee’s hours of work. This is only if the employee can’t be usefully employed for their normal days or hours because of business changes related to:

  • coronavirus, or
  • Government initiatives to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Full-time employees

Employers can reduce a full-time employee’s hours of work down to an average of between 22.8 and 38 ordinary hours per week. If this happens, the employee needs to be paid for the hours they work and the rules for ordinary hours apply on a pro rata basis.

Some employees can’t have their hours reduced below a minimum amount of fortnightly pay. This includes:

  • Full-time employees at Levels 1-5 – these employees need to work enough hours to be paid at least $1115.70 a fortnight (not including allowances).
  • Full-time Vehicle Industry Tradespersons at Level 1 or 2 – these employees need to work enough hours to be paid at least $1500.00 a fortnight (not including allowances).

Part-time employees

Employers can reduce a part-time employee’s hours of work down to an average of between 75% and 100% of their usual agreed hours per week (or per week over their roster cycle, if a roster cycle applies).

This means, for example, if an employee usually works 10 hours per week, their employer can reduce their hours to 7.5 per week or an average of 7.5 per week over the roster cycle.

Part-time employees who previously earned more than $836.78 a fortnight for their agreed hours need to work enough hours to keep getting this amount. They can’t have their hours reduced so that they get less than $836.78 a fortnight (not including allowances).

Process to reduce an employee’s hours

If an employer wants to reduce an employee's hours, they need to discuss the changes with them, making sure they:

  • follow the Vehicle Award’s consultation rules about changes to rosters or hours of work, and
  • provide as much notice as possible.

If an employee is a union member, the employer also needs to let the employee’s union know that it intends to make the changes

Leave entitlements while on reduced hours

If an employee receives less pay than normal under a direction, they can agree with their employer to increase their pay to their normal weekly pay by taking paid leave for the difference in hours. For example, an employee who usually works 10 hours a week and has had their hours reduced to 7.5 can agree with their employer to use 2.5 hours of annual leave each week so that they are still paid for 10 hours in total per week.

An employee who is directed to work less hours still accrues annual leave, personal leave and any other leave based on their normal hours.

If an employee with reduced hours takes annual leave or personal leave, they’re paid for their ordinary hours for the time they take leave (their hours before the reduction). If an employee with reduced hours is made redundant, their redundancy pay is calculated on their ordinary hours (their hours before the reduction).

Secondary employment, training or professional development while on reduced hours

If an employee is directed to work temporarily reduced hours, they can request to take up:

  • reasonable secondary employment
  • training, or
  • professional development.

Employers need to consider and can’t unreasonably refuse a request.

Annual leave

Under Schedule J, an employer can request an employee to take annual leave if:

  • the reasons for the request relate to the coronavirus pandemic or Government initiatives to slow the transmission of coronavirus
  • it helps the employer to prevent or minimise the loss of employment
  • the employee will still have at least 2 weeks’ accrued annual leave left after taking the leave.

Employers need to consider the employee’s personal circumstances when making a request. They also need to give at least 72 hours’ notice.

Employees need to consider their employer’s request to take leave and can’t unreasonably refuse it.

The period of annual leave needs to start before 30 June 2020 but can end after this date.

Employees can take up to twice as much annual leave at a proportionally reduced rate if their employer agrees. For example, if an employee agrees with their employer to take annual leave at half pay, the employee gets paid 1 week of annual leave (including annual leave loading if it applies) but takes 2 weeks off work.

An employee on leave at half pay accumulates annual leave and sick and carer’s leave as if they were on leave at full pay.

Employers and employees can still agree for an employee to take leave at any other time.

Annual leave and close downs

Annual leave

Employers can make an employee take annual leave as part of a close down (also known as a shut down) in certain circumstances. An employer can do this if:

  • they give at least 1 week’s written notice to employees (or shorter if agreed)
  • the close down is because of the coronavirus outbreak or Government initiatives to slow its transmission.

Employers can make an employee use all their accrued annual leave in this circumstance (meaning they don’t have to keep a balance of at least 2 weeks). The leave has to be taken between 11 May 2020 and 30 June 2020.

Unpaid leave

If an employee doesn’t have enough annual leave to cover the period of the close down, the employer can require them to take unpaid leave for the rest of the close down. The unpaid leave can only be taken between 11 May 2020 and 30 June 2020.

Any unpaid leave taken by an employee during a close down counts as service for the purposes of the Vehicle Award and the National Employment Standards.

Secondary employment, training or professional development while on unpaid leave

If an employee is directed to take unpaid leave as a result of a close down, they can request to take up:

  • reasonable secondary employment
  • training, or
  • professional development.

Employers need to consider and can’t unreasonably refuse a request.

Employees covered by an agreement

The changes to the Vehicle Award don’t apply to employees covered by an enterprise agreement.

For employees covered by an agreement, the Commission has said that some parties to enterprise agreements are considering varying their agreements because of coronavirus. This is to give extra flexibility to help address the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

There have also been some changes to access periods for variations for enterprise agreements. Where an employer asks employees covered by an enterprise agreement to vote on varying it, the employer now only needs to give employees access to a copy of the variation for 1 day (instead of 7 days) before employees vote. Learn more on the Fair Work Commission - COVID-19 and enterprise agreements page external-icon.png.

Find out if your workplace is covered by an agreement on the Fair Work Commission website – Find an agreement external-icon.png.

More information

Any dispute about the operation of Schedule J can be referred to the Commission. Go to Interpret or enforce an award - Disputes about how an award applies external-icon.png on the Fair Work Commission website for more information.

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