Those who lose hours will be able to apply for a second job to tide them over.
And under the new law, which will be in place for six months, businesses will be able to tell their employees to work in different roles or locations to keep them employed. The temporary roles will have to be safe, within employees’ skills, not too far from their current workplace and “reasonably within the scope of the business”.
That will stop a gym owner directing their idle staff to take up agricultural work on a farm, for example, but allow a bar owner to ask their staff to do delivery runs.
Employers can also request their workers change the days they work and take their annual leave, with only those with a “reasonable” excuse allowed to refuse. All employees can keep two weeks of leave in reserve, though.
Mr Porter rejected Labor’s claims it was unfair to let businesses use the government’s wage subsidy to pay down annual leave obligations they already owe workers.
“Whether or not they’re paying their employee in a business with next to zero work to be on leave or doing something else for a couple of hours a week, does it really matter that much if it saves the employee’s job and helps the employer keep their business afloat?” Mr Porter said.
Under a deal negotiated between Mr Porter and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, employees who believe their bosses have not followed the new rules can go to the Fair Work Commission.
Professor Shae McCrystal, a labour law expert from the University of Sydney, said it was unlikely the changes would lead to an explosion of litigation.
“I don’t think we’re currently experiencing a slew of businesses saying I’m going to take advantage of this situation to stand my workers down,” Professor McCrystal said.
Unions had wanted all of the changes to run through the Fair Work Commission to ensure variations between industries were addressed rather than using the same legislation across industries, but settled for giving workers a right to have their employers’ decisions reviewed.
The government has also stood firm on its decision not to include visa workers or casuals working for an employer for less than 12 months in the JobKeeper scheme, leaving more than 2 million workers ineligible.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said unions were still pushing the government to include those workers in the scheme — a goal supported by Centre Alliance and the Greens.
“They should also be eligible to receive the payment as they face no less a financial struggle and should be supported to keep their jobs and connections to employers for when this crisis is over,” Ms McManus said.
Labor has said it will vote for JobKeeper, despite having deep reservations about the government’s approach to casual workers, but is considering amendments.
“We will continue to suggest improvements to the government and hope that the government sees the common sense of what we’re putting forward,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group both welcomed the legislation. ACCI boss James Pearson said it would give workers and businesses a “fighting chance”, and thanked the ACTU for compromising with the government.
Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie has said she won’t stand in the way of the legislation, as has One Nation.
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said he was worried the legislation allowed the Treasurer to adjust the exact eligibility criteria for JobKeeper without having to go to Parliament.
Meanwhile submissions from both industry and union groups broadly backed changes proposed by the Fair Work Commission to give millions of workers on 103 industry awards two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave to self-isolate and an option for twice as much annual leave on half pay.
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Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.