Donna Trembath, Executive Counsel
Is your organisation ready for the new rules?
The Fair Work Commission (“FWC“) has decided to vary 22 modern awards to include stricter requirements for salaried employees.
Employers who prefer the administrative ease of paying annual salaries rather than award rates may be surprised by the new rules.
Which occupations and industries are affected?
The decision handed down on 27 February 2019 applies to 22 modern awards including a number of occupational awards, for example the Clerks Award and the Health Professionals Award. The affected industries include restaurants, hospitality, banking, finance and insurance, contract call centres, legal services, mining, salt, telecommunications, water, wool, broadcasting and recorded entertainment, local government, manufacturing, pharmacies, rail, pastoral and horticulture.
What are the new rules
The FWC is in the process of dividing the 22 relevant awards into “Category 1” (relatively stable hours) and “Category 2” (highly variable hours, or where significant penalty rates apply to ordinary hours).
Category 1 awards (including the Clerks Award) will receive the least burdensome model clause. Even so, subject to specified modifications for specific awards, it will require an employer who elects to pay an annual salary that is inclusive of overtime, penalty rates, allowances and loadings to:
- detail the method by which the annualised wage has been calculated including specification of each separate component of the annualised wage and any overtime or penalty assumptions used in the calculation;
- set outer limits on the number of penalty-rate attracting hours that an employee may be required to work each pay period or roster cycle (e.g. no more than 3 hours of work on a Sunday each week);
- set outer limits on the number of overtime hours that an employee may be required to work each pay period or roster cycle (e.g. no more than ten overtime hours per week);
- pay employees separately for hours not covered by the annual salary, at award rates;
- conduct a reconciliation every 12 months (and on termination of employment) to calculate the remuneration that would have been payable to the employee under the award, and pay any shortfall to the employee; and
- keep records of start and finish times and unpaid breaks, to be signed by the employee each pay period or roster cycle.
Category 2 awards will, subject to specified modifications for specific awards, receive a more onerous model clause under which an annual salary can only be provided if the employee agrees in writing. The employee will have the right to terminate the annual salary arrangement with 12 months’ notice and revert to award rates.
When will it take effect
The FWC is still finalising the changes and considering whether transitional provisions are needed. Written submissions are due on 27 March 2019.
Concerns for employers
Some of the criticisms of the new rules include that they are impracticable for small business, obviate the benefit of administrative simplicity which employers seek to obtain by paying an annual salary, and that salaries are often established having regard to market conditions rather than award-related matters.
While various employer parties submitted to the FWC that provisions that are too costly or burdensome will not be used, in our view annual salaries are here to stay. Employers should prepare to adapt to the changes as the FWC has come down firmly on the side of workers and preventing exploitation and wage theft.
PCS recommends reviewing how your organisation employs salaried employees and manages its award compliance and record keeping obligations. It is important that if you pay an employee an annualised salary where there is an underlying modern award, that you comply with the award’s strict requirements once they come into effect. Given other recent changes regarding failures to keep proper employee records, record-keeping requirements for all employees (including non-award employees) should also be reviewed. Please contact us to discuss further.