Topic: Does your Enterprise Agreement enable COVID-readiness?

Day: Monday 12 October 2020

Time: 2:10pm-2:30pm AESDT


Enabling staff to be Covid-ready gives rise to consideration on numerous levels. There is the obvious need for suitable staff selection for the task. Training and education. PPE. Perhaps sectioning of the workforce and dedication of the physical workspace and workplace to Covid-specific cases.

But what about the underpinning contracts, policies and working arrangements as contained within your Enterprise Agreement? Do they enable you to roster on and off staff as flexibly and as necessary within a Covid environment?

Would your Enterprise Agreement allow you to put in place rosters, both short and long term, in an acceptable and lawful manner, without creation of excessive back-fill costs, overtime and associated expenses?

Before we answer the above, we need to look at what working arrangements, flexibilities and constraints a provider may need to implement within a Covid environment. As important are those non-work time and outside of work considerations and obligations, that require mandated attention. Once those are crystalised, then we examine the extent to which the above can be satisfied.

The standard eight hour shift within an EA may not meet operational needs under Covid. So what are the alternative options? The current shift span, break between shifts and change of roster provisions may not be flexible enough to accommodate change without cost. So where does one turn to overcome EA rigidity and perceived impediments to change?

Most providers today exist upon some form of the current industry template Agreement, a legacy of the industry template Agreement or their own version of Enterprise Agreement. Whatever the case, their EA underpins their workforce in terms of allowable working arrangements. And on top of that sits the employee’s contract and organisation policies. Unless a very recent edit, none have been built to accommodate Covid Workforce Planning needs. However the good news is there are some hidden gems that we can extract and apply most effectively….

Prudent services are sitting down and reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of their current EA, making a list of Covid-unfriendly provisions, and designing strategies, some unrelated to their EA, on how to overcome foreseeable difficulties.

Some aged care centres have already thought through their people planning and engaged dedicated Covid teams from their current workforce, ready for deployment as necessary. For diligence, those staff have a suite of Covid-related employment paperwork, to be read and applied in conjunction with their current EA, Contract and policies – if and when ever needed.

Certain providers have gone one step further to include accommodation agreements and isolation waivers, depending upon how covered and prepared they wish to be.

All in all, the entire exercise is a matter of self-assessment for a risk that although present in community, will hopefully never become real within their environment. Nonetheless, preparedness and demonstrated workforce contingency planning never go astray. After all, when Noah built the ark it wasn’t raining.


Catherine Thorpe is a workplace relations and HR/ER practitioner, with an industrial relations background. Catherine currently works for herself as a sole consultant and has done so since 2005, providing information, assistance, training and executive support to employers, management and staff via her consultancy D&G HR and Management Solutions.
Catherine is highly proficient in all stages of the employment cycle. Having in excess of 20 years in people management within Aged Care, Health and Community Service, her strategy, thoughts and actions, always give due consideration to sector specific sensitivities, legislative requirements and workplace culture needs. Catherine also provides learning and development programs designed to change workplace culture to a more consumer centred focus to meet the requirements of the new Aged Care Quality Standards.
In addition to other qualifications, Catherine holds a Bachelor of Economics and Master of Labour Relations and Labour Law, from Sydney University.