Whist the traditional timber industry Christmas period close down isn’t as long, consistent or widespread as it was 20 years ago and beyond, many companies in the timber industry still close down their business over the Christmas-New Year period and send their employees on annual leave.

For many timber employers, it makes sense as the building industry that they directly service slows down at this time of the year and clients and suppliers are often closed. For others, the stop start nature of working over the period with the sprinkling of public holidays is impractical.  For many employers, it is an opportune time to perform necessary maintenance of plant and equipment as well as the fact that it coincides with school holidays and many employees wanting to spend time with family and friends.

The legal right of a company to enforce the close down is in the relevant award (i.e. Timber Industry Award 2010), enterprise agreement or, in the case of award free employees, the National Employment Standards.

When implementing a close down for employees classified under the Timber Industry Award 2010, the key points to remember are as follows:

  • You must give not less than 4 weeks’ notice of the close down to your employees. It is recommended that you put a memo about the close down on noticeboards in the workplace and also provide a copy of the memo to each employee with their pay slip.  The Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010 also provides that 4 weeks’ notice is required for a close down.  Always check the applicable award because the modern awards have different close down provisions and different notice periods too, for example, the annual close down provision in the Joinery and Building Trades Award 2010 provides that 2 months’ notice must be given to employees.
  • The close down provision provides you can close down an enterprise or part of it. This means you have the option of closing your business completely or leaving a part of the business operating during the close down.  For example, you may wish to keep your office open for orders between the Christmas and New Year period or have your maintenance team working during that period.
  • An employee who has sufficient leave to cover the period of the close down is allowed leave and paid for the leave.
  • An employee who does not have sufficient leave to cover all of the close down period will be on unpaid leave for the period of the close down after the leave is exhausted.
  • Casual staff are on unpaid leave for the whole period of the close down. Permanent staff who have no leave accrual can also be on unpaid leave during the close down.
  • An employer may close down for one or two separate periods in a year. In circumstances where an employer closes down their enterprise for two separate periods in one year, one of the close down periods must be for at least a period of 14 consecutive days.
  • An employer and a majority of employees may agree to the enterprise closing down for three separate periods in one year, provided one of the periods is for at least 14 days.

The National Employment Standards provide that an employer may require an award/agreement free employee to take a period of paid annual leave but only if the request is reasonable.  The NES provides examples of a reasonable request, including the employer’s business being closed down for a period (for example, between Christmas and New Year).

It is worth noting that under the Fair Work Act, if the period of close down includes any other form of leave such as public holidays, personal/carer’s leave (previously known as sick leave), compassionate leave or community service leave, the employee is NOT taken to be on annual leave (even during the close down) during the other periods of leave.

Finally, it is good practice to inform a prospective employee during the recruitment phase that he or she may be required to take annual leave during the company’s close down period.

This article was written and provided by Safety Experts TTIA