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COVID-19 and rights at work in Australia

Sara Charlesworth

May 5, 2020

Much has already been written on the groups of workers inadequately covered by the Job Seeker and Job Keeper funding that aims to provide income support to workers and businesses during the COVID lockdown here in Australia. Many casual workers with less than 12 months service with the one employer, many contracts, agency workers and gig workers fall through many of the gaps and cracks in these two schemes. Temporary visa holders, who have been plugging gaps in the Australian labour force for some time, such as working holiday makers and international students, are especially vulnerable. They are not currently entitled to receive any income support and rent assistance and do not have access to Medicare.

In the COVID era workplace rights still exist for these workers where they are employees, no matter their visa status or whether they are in casual or ongoing employment. However, very recently a number of these protections have been weakened. A CPOW industry partner, JobWatch, one of the longest standing employment rights agencies in Australia, has put out a very useful COVID–19: Employment Rights Q&A. These Q&As go to issues facing a wide variety of workers, both those mentioned above as well workers who have been until now in relatively secure employment. These issues include whether and in what circumstances, employers can direct workers to take leave or change their hours or duties. JobWatch also provides other useful links to COVID-19 advice information on the websites of  Victoria Legal Aid, the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Fair Work Commission.

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