The Agenda- December 2017

Considerable focus has been placed by media, Government and the community in recent months on important economic milestones and trends.  This focus has included issues such as the modest level of wage increases, the increasing cost burden experienced by households, current levels of under-employment, Government proposals and intervention in the energy sector.

Lively discussion has included speculation as to how Australian corporations will compete globally while managing labour costs and a work week which is not competitive with many in our region.

While this newsletter is being released as the festive spirit becomes front of mind for a significant majority of Australians, the content of the articles are not uplifting and reveal the challenges of youth employment, graduate employment, the alignment between tertiary education and employer expectations of graduates fit for work, stubbornly high levels of under-employed members of the workforce and resistance to wage growth as commercial enterprises compete for consumer dollars in markets increasingly influenced by products sourced globally.

Clearly 2018 will be a challenging year for the community and for both private and public sectors as key stakeholders and influencers address these challenges and attempt to set a path for a prosperous and sustainable future for the nation.


Are Employees Underpaid? HR Managers Should be Aware of Award Classifications and Pay Entitlements

According to an article in the HRM magazine, HR Managers need to be fully aware of Award classifications and wage payments for employees. There is less tolerance from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) regarding HR professionals and their liability in underpayment cases.

They must be aware of the Fair Work Act of 2009, which holds third parties to be liable. Additionally, the Fair Work Amendment Bill of 2017 is aimed at giving the FWO the capacity to examine and discipline parties in circumstances of underpayment. These circumstances are not uncommon in large corporations.  Good intentions of employers who choose to pay employees above minimum Award rates will not excuse an employer in instances where the employer has overlooked certain other employee entitlements, such as allowances, penalty rates and loadings.  Such oversight may well result in serious legal ramifications for HR Managers and employers.



University Education & Vocational Training

We note that the most recent graduate outcome survey reveals that in 2017, 89.3% of individuals who graduated in 2014 had gained full time employment.  This was down from a comparable study in 2010 when 92.6% of graduates were employed in a similar period from leaving university.

Robert Bolton, in his Financial Review article entitled, “Falling Employment of Graduates Gives Simon Birmingham a Stick to Attack Unis”, raises the issue referred to by the Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, recently when the Minister highlighted in Parliament the disconnect between some of the courses universities are offering and the jobs on offer.  The Minister’s observation could be interpreted as highlighting the view that universities and institutes of higher education need to assume a greater degree of accountability for ensuring that courses in which students enrol will provide them with the necessary capabilities to undertake meaningful and challenging work in a changing and dynamic employment environment.

Research also reveals that university enrolments have steadily increased for more than a generation, though in this context indications are that only two thirds of students are finishing their degrees within six years and for those whose entry scores are modest that figure increases.

A recent comment on the ABC by Victoria’s Skills Commissioner, Neil Coulson, highlighted that Victoria is experiencing major skill shortages in many areas, with increasing university enrolment rates leading to a decline in school leavers pursuing a trade.  This observation highlights a potential conundrum in terms of employment, where university students are not acquiring capabilities relevant in the employment market while the nation is ignoring technical training where jobs are always available and pay is comparable with many roles undertaken by graduates. These emerging trends in a rapidly changing employment environment should lead to increased engagement between universities and vocational education training centres in an endeavor to optimise graduate capabilities and suitability for employment on completing post-secondary education.

Other observations in relation to the time it takes students to complete university study, relate to the number of hours each week that they are working to support themselves.  That is, they are multi-tasking. One to provide economic support and the other to master the requirements of a university degree.


Extending the Basis for Paid Leave?

A recent article in the Australian Human Resource Institute’s “HRM”  caught our attention.  Chloe Hava, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, reflected upon recent global initiatives, some of which are being considered in Australia, for paid leave in circumstances outside current policy parameters.

A particular reference was made to an occasion in the UK where an employee was granted two days’ leave to take care of the employee’s sick dog.  While the employee’s leave was initially approved as annual holidays, the employee successfully contested the leave allocation with the help of an animal advocacy group and received pet carer’s leave as paid leave.

In the same article, reference was made to an American author, Meghann Foyle, who raised the question in relation to comparability of maternity leave for singles as a form of sabbatical, noting that in France employees can take a sabbatical after three years’ service, albeit that such leave is unpaid.

The article also noted that in some countries marriage leave is granted, revealing that in Greece employees are allowed five days and in Argentina ten days.  In the Czech Republic immediate family can also apply.  It was noted that Japan embrace a similar concept in congratulation leave for newly-weds and new parents.

Russia allows time off to donate blood or, where an employee needs a blood test, allowing a day’s leave.  In Bulgaria, employees are entitled to up to two days, and in Argentina and Brazil one day’s leave is permissible.

In another AHRI publication of recent weeks, it was revealed that in the US, some companies are offering employees paid climate leave.  This issue has clearly become a topic of international discussion with world leaders having met in Bonn in last month to discuss the impact of rising temperatures.  Recent major weather events, notably hurricanes in the US, have caused a number of companies to give consideration in their HR policies to accommodate the challenges arising from such events.

Notwithstanding, it was also noted that some organisations told their employees that failure to show up for work due to evacuation would only be a valid excuse 24 hours before an anticipated storm.  In the above context, we understand that the US technology company, Fog Creek, is offering employees paid climate leave.

Should we anticipate a broadening of current leave provisions in Australia to incorporate a broader array of reasons for leave to include the giving of blood, time off to celebrate a marriage union, to care for a pet, to deal with unexpected outcomes of nature and other, yet-to-be identified causes of planned or unplanned absence?

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