HR Heartbeat: Skills drought, awards review, and...

In this week’s HR Heartbeat, talent shortages leave recruiters with their work cut out for them, the awards review gets a short timeline, and an employer avoids an unfair dismissal fine with thorough documentation.

First published on Thursday, Oct 12, 2023

Last updated on Friday, Oct 13, 2023

6 min read

Have you heard the latest news?

Everything you need to know about the latest trends impacting employers all over Australia. Keep up to date with the HR Heartbeat.

Let’s get into the headlines.

Cloudy with no chance of skills

The talent shortage is still a huge challenge for Australian employers.

A new report from Jobs and Skills Australia has shown that 36% of occupations listed in the 2023 Skills Priority List are still gripped by the skills shortage. And some of those occupations may come as a surprise.

Talent droughts have been identified for:

  • Solicitors
  • Accountants
  • Illustrators
  • Pharmacy technicians

And more.

Not to mention all the award-covered jobs that continue to be ceaselessly starved for talent in the construction, healthcare, education, and manufacturing industries.

But we’re not just here to rub salt in the wounds of failed recruitment attempts.

This is a reminder to all businesses and employers to keep your eyes on retention.

Whether that’s through continuous employee recognition, or staff perks that give your employees access to thousands of cash-saving offers.

And if you’re trying to recruit the best candidate—make sure you’re not letting the perfect fit slip through your fingers with a more streamlined recruitment process.

And the awards review goes...ahead

28 June 2024.

That’s the date Fair Work Commission President Adam Hatcher has set as the finish line for the final report on the modern awards review.

The four objects of the review are:

  1. Making awards easier to use
  2. Investigating award coverage and minimum standards for the arts and culture sectors
  3. Job security and access to secure work
  4. The effect of workplace relations settings on the work and care sectors

The timeline set out is optimistically speedy for the Commission, but there may be delays on the horizon with potential for unions and employer associations to jostle about how easy they find award interpretation.

In the meantime, businesses need to keep on top of modern awards and stay on the right side of the law to avoid getting on the FWC’s bad side. Remember, award interpretation is infamously tricky, so if you do need support don’t hesitate to get unlimited employment relations BrightAdvice available 24/7, 365.

The Loopholes Bill on tour

The Closing Loopholes Bill has started its tour with a University of Technology Sydney academic, a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, throwing their support behind it.

One of its proposals which the academic was all for, is to allow the Fair Work Commission to set minimum pay rates and conditions for gig economy workers on digital platforms. His submission included the dangers road transport owner-drivers and gig workers face as a result of low incomes.

The Senate Committee will hold hearings around the country as they examine the Bill that could potentially bring more changes to the Fair Work Act. While it’s likely these proposed changes won’t reach their final form until after February 2024, stay tuned to see exactly what it could have in store.

It’s the lie

Medical cannabis sparked this employee’s termination.

Or rather, his failure to disclose his use of medical cannabis eliminated any chance of re-engagement with his former employer.
This story is full of twists and turns, but for starters, it’s important to note that the employee was responsible in his role for handling explosives at a mine site. He started using the drug on medical advice and reported this fact to his employer who—concerned about the prescription’s validity, promptly started what turned into a 3-month process to verify the employee’s fitness for work while on the medication.

The employee, concerned about being distrusted and discriminated against, swapped to an alternative medication and updated his employer with a doctor’s letter. That may have been the end of the story, but the alternative medication didn’t quite work.

So, the employee went back to using medical cannabis on his off-weeks, taking precautions like using less than was prescribed and stopping all use at least 32 hours before returning to his work site.

Months went by before a near-miss on site led to the mine operator ordering drug tests, and the employee (spooked that his results would show THC) came clean to the paramedic performing the test. He was then immediately stood down.

The fact that the employee had passed all prior drug tests and took precautions in his use of cannabis would have helped his unfair dismissal case. But the FWC found that the business had clear documentation that medication changes that could impair judgement, coordination, or alertness had to be disclosed. So, the dismissal was deemed not harsh and fair in these circumstances.

That wraps up this edition of HR Heartbeat. Stay tuned for more headlines and all the latest updates that will keep you in the know with all the major employment changes coming your way.

If you’ve got questions about the top HR headlines from this week, ask BrightLightning:

What is a Modern Award? When did Modern Awards come into effect?

Modern Awards are the current industrial instruments applicable to the majority of national system employees in Australia, they set out the terms and conditions for their relevant industry on top of the National Employment Standards within the Fair Work Act 2009. These came into effect on 1 January 2010.

Can all employees claim unfair dismissal?

Any permanent employee who has been employed for at least the minimum employment period may be able to claim unfair dismissal. For businesses with 15 or more employees, this period is 6 months, and for small businesses with less than 15 employees, the period is 12 months. Casuals may also be able to claim unfair dismissal in some circumstances. Be aware that if your business operates out of Western Australia, different rules may apply.

How many hours does a full-time employee need to work under the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2020?

Under this Award, a full-time employee is engaged to work an average of 38 ordinary hours per week.

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