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It seems that employment related issues are front of mind everywhere at the moment, for a range of reasons. The most prominent is the publicity being generated by teachers indicating an intent to strike, even though it is in the middle of exams for year 12 students.

This publication recently had an article about investigations by the Fair Work Ombudsman into agricultural enterprises throughout regional Australia and a significant number of fines being imposed in relation to payslip and record-keeping breaches.

Only last month we wrote about proposed changes to the Fair Work legislation to introduce protections for labour-hire and gig economy workers, enable casual to permanent conversion for employees, and criminalise wage theft and industrial manslaughter.

The legal framework for employers and employees to wade through has become a minefield to negotiate.

To make this mix even more difficult is the aftereffects from Covid and the approach of workers to what has been the traditional norm of working hours and, for those in a lot of businesses, being in the offices or at the premises.

The latest iteration of these changes that is gaining traction in some areas is the idea of a four-day working week. Clearly there will be challenges for employers in considering such an approach. Outside of the practical difficulties in some industries, there are a couple of important considerations with this option.

Firstly, modern awards and enterprise agreements generally require employers to consult with employees when a definite decision has been made to introduce a major workplace change, particularly if it affects employees’ rosters or hours of work. Employers must therefore ensure that they carefully follow any consultation requirements under the relevant industrial instrument/s before implementing a four-day work week.

This consultation will usually involve:

  • providing employees with information about the proposed change;
  • encouraging employees to express their perspectives on how the proposed change might affect them (including any impact on family or caring responsibilities); and
  • genuinely considering employees’ views before implementing the change.

Employers who fail to follow the relevant consultation requirements may breach the Fair Work Act 2009 and potentially expose themselves to significant financial penalties.

Secondly, employers could consider implementing a four-day work week via an enterprise agreement. Subject to passing the “Better Off Overall Test” and procedural requirements, enterprise agreements can simplify employment conditions set by a modern award. However, drafting, interpreting, and negotiating enterprise agreements can be complex and overwhelming and take critical resources away from your business. Employers need to carefully consider how to best implement and integrate a four-day work week within their organisation when drafting and negotiating enterprise agreements.

Clearly four day working weeks aren’t going to be for everyone. These difficulties are exacerbated by current high levels of employment, meaning that businesses need to consider all options to retain and attract staff.

This article was published in the November edition of The Stock Journal.