We live in the land of flooding rains and raging bush fires and the recent Cyclone Debbie has reminded us all that natural disasters are a part of Australian life.  As businesses, we need to be aware of how to appropriately manage employment during natural disasters. The Fair Work Ombudsman has released a factsheet for employers that provides some general information on payments during natural disasters and this weeks HR Highlight goes into more depth on the practical concerns for employers in the downstream petroleum industry.

Stand Down

Section 524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) outlines provisions allowing employers to stand down employees, without pay, when they cannot be ‘usefully’ employed for a specific amount of time, because of a stoppage of work that is outside of the control of the employer. This includes natural disasters, as well as major or key equipment failure that cannot be attributed to the employer (eg the breakdown well maintained equipment).

The term ‘usefully’ is important here, it means that if the business can still utilise the labour of the employee in another area, on another machine or at another work location then they must do so. However, if these options are not available to the business then they may stand down the employee.

Notice of Stand Down

In the event of a stand down the onus is on the employer to notify employees of the situation that has necessitated the stand down, to communicate the payment situation and to keep the employees apprised of when the stand down is expected to be lifted and normal duties resumed.

Payment and Stand Down

How and what is paid to an employee in the event of a stand down is governed by the employment instrument the contract, Award or agreement. If the industrial instrument does not refer to stand down provisions then Section 524 of the Act prevails.

The Act states that provided the stand down meets the requirements outlined above the employees can be stood down without pay. This does not mean that the business cannot choose to pay the employee or allow the employee to dip into accrued leave entitlements.

In the downstream petroleum industry the employment instruments generally are:

  • Clerks Private Sector Award 2010 does not have any stand down provisions so the Act prevails;
  • Vehicle Manufacturing Repair Services and Retail Award 2010 Clause 24.7.d outlines that if the employee has presented for work then is stood down before their shift commences there is a minimum of two (2) hours to be paid. If the employee actually starts work and then is stood down there is a minimum of four (4) hours to be paid. In all other areas, such as when the employee is stood down before presenting for work, the Act prevails; and
  • Road Transport and Distribution Award 2010 does not have any stand down provisions so the Act prevails.

The business may offer the employee the opportunity to access paid leave accrued during a stand down for an emergency.

Special Considerations

During a natural disaster, safe access to work may cause a stand down or prevent employees from presenting for work. Consideration should be given to these situations before allowing access to the workplace or activating performance management for absenteeism.

Further additional leave provisions may be available to employees who volunteer for community service in the event of a natural disaster.

Fair Work Ombudsman Factsheet

To access the factsheet prepared by the Fair Work Ombudsman on stand down during a natural disaster, click here.

Here to Help

ACAPMA Employment Professionals are available to assist members with stand down and all employment provisions on 1300 160 270 or you can email employment@acapma.com.au. ACAPMA members can access resources and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMA Employment Professionals on 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by  calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals its free for members. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $770 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts. Click here to learn more about ACAPMA membership.