Paid pandemic leave for aged care workers 

29 July 2020

The ANMF (SA Branch) welcomes last night’s preliminary decision by the Fair Work Commission to grant paid pandemic leave to employees who work in the aged care sector.

Paid pandemic leave will become an award entitlement from tomorrow, 29 July 2020, for a period of three months for employees who are covered by the Nurses Award 2010, Aged Care Award 2010 and the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010.

Aged care employees who are award reliant will now be entitled to take up to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave on each occasion they are prevented from working (including working from home) due to a requirement to self-isolate, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria.

The new paid pandemic leave applies to permanent and regular and systematic casual employees who work in aged care and who are not covered by an enterprise agreement.  

The full bench of the Fair Work Commission found that aged care employees at residential homes faced an “elevated risk of being required to self-isolate” and were also exposed to “significant financial difficulty and even distress” due to not having access to paid leave or having exhausted their leave entitlements.

The Commission was also concerned about the risk of aged care workers going to work sick due to financial stress.

"Further … there is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need," the Commission said.

"This represents a significant risk to infection control measures. These matters weigh significantly in favour of the introduction of a paid pandemic leave entitlement."

“We welcome this decision which is the result of active campaigning by the ANMF and other unions, with the support of the ACTU,’’ said ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj. Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM.

“Although paid pandemic leave does not necessarily apply to employees who are covered by an enterprise agreement, the decision sets an important precedent that should be followed by all employers in the aged care sector,” she said.

“It will be important that the same rules are applied to workers under enterprise agreements who will not automatically receive access to the pandemic leave arrangements. There may also be some other workers who remain outside of the rules established by the decision who we need to see protected – if nothing else but to prevent the risk of spread to other workers and clients.

“We also welcome and acknowledge the decision in Victoria that helps to protect aged care workers who work at multiple sites, ensuring they do not face financial burden while protecting the community.”

The new ruling enables the ‘cohorting’ of the Victorian aged care workforce to a single site. This means the site where the worker does the most hours will become their sole workplace, and workers being provided with additional hours of payment for the work foregone in other locations.

That primary worksite will then employ the worker for at least their total normal hours by providing additional hours equal to or greater than the hours they were working elsewhere.

If the employer does not have sufficient rostered hours to employ the worker for the additional hours, then they must employ them for supernumerary hours (shifts that are additional to the usual number of staff on a shift) up to the foregone amount of hours.  

“The ANMF (SA Branch) also acknowledges the issues for the casual workforce, who are currently not eligible for paid pandemic leave, which has left many of our members feeling vulnerable if a second COVID wave does occur,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“We will continue to campaign locally for the protection of workers in these unprecedented times.’’  

What are the rules for pandemic leave in aged care?
If an employee is sick and has an entitlement to paid leave, this should be taken first, before you can access paid pandemic leave.

Where an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, and the employee becomes entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the leave entitlement will cease to apply.

It will be a condition of receipt of the leave entitlement that the relevant employee has agreed to undertake a COVID-19 test at the earliest opportunity.

Where the self-isolation results from the advice of a medical practitioner (as distinct from a requirement of the employer or a government medical authority), it will be necessary for a medical certificate to be produced.

What about those covered by an enterprise agreement?
The Commonwealth Government has announced funding support for employers to enable paid leave. However, they have not imposed any rules, or provided any guidance at this time as to how an employee can access this.

ANMF will be working closely with the aged care provider peak bodies to provide clarity on this and update members as soon as possible.