The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) has established an Industrial Relations (IR) Working Group to help businesses operate and keep their employees and customers safe through the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The IR Working Group includes experts in health and industrial relations, including private sector legal advisers (with, respectively, employee and employer experience and expertise), former Fair Work Commissioners, a representative from Safe Work Australia and the Commonwealth’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
The restrictions in place to protect people’s lives during the pandemic mean that businesses have had to adapt and restructure how they operate to maintain the jobs they provide. The IR Working Group will focus on five key areas:
- Complement the work of Safe Work Australia and state and territory agencies in the development of COVID-19 safe working approaches in particular industries and workplaces to ensure employers and employees are informed of health issues, risks and mitigation measures.
- Complement the role of the Fair Work Commission and other entities by troubleshooting WHS and IR disputes relating to COVID-19 safe working practices.
- Help manage problems related to industrial relations disputes and misunderstandings that may arise in implementing the JobKeeper payment.
- Facilitate ideas to help critical businesses plan and pre-empt circumstances where the workplace is impacted or interrupted by an employee’s COVID-19 illness or exposure.
- Consider particular workplace issues associated with return to work and normalisation efforts as social restriction measures are relaxed.
“Making sure there are appropriate physical distancing and other measures in place in workplaces to protect customers and workers is critical,” NCCC Chair Nev Power said, “both for those businesses and services still operating now, but also to ensure a successful return to business for others as restrictions are gradually lifted.” Led by NCCC Commissioner Greg Combet, the IR Working Group will look at those immediate workplace safety aspects, alongside a range of broader issues that may arise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our focus will be on helping employers put in place COVID-19 safe working practices to protect their businesses, their employees and customers, and to make sure they are prepared to respond quickly to any COVID-19 issues in their workplaces,” Combet said. “The specialised experience and networks of members of the IR Working Group will allow them to help employers and employees nip issues in the bud before they can threaten jobs, business livelihoods and the further spread of coronavirus in our workplaces.”
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