I have no doubt Members are aware of the fires that are burning across New South Wales and Queensland posing a significant threat to communities and property.
As of the weekend, there were 79 fires burning in NSW alone, 45 which were not contained. This makes the situation extremely unpredictable for the population of those regions affected and the businesses that are based in these areas.
The concern is at the time of issuing this Member’s alert, the next few days are shaping up as potentially delivering more dangerous conditions to a wide swathe of NSW and Queensland.
I’ve already become aware of Members being contacted by staff who have indicated they will be unable to get to work because of road closures.
Some business owners have also been advised not to operate their workplace due to the extreme conditions.
In addition, TTIA Members have employees that have been fighting the fires in their capacity as members of volunteer fire crews.
It is therefore an opportune time to answer some of the questions we are fielding at present in relation to this bushfire threat to provide some clarity.
Stand Down Provisions (sec 524 FWA)
An employer can send employees home if there is no useful work for them to do, due to a natural disaster and severe weather including bushfires. This may include where a local or State authority has prevented them from operating their business in a location due to the threat.
It also applies where an employee is unable to get to work, for example, due to road closures or the danger of travel where warnings are issued by the relevant authority.
This is known as a stand down. It essentially applies where the reason for the stand down is out of the control of the employer. Clearly the current bushfire emergency falls well and truly under this category.
Is An Employee Paid?
An employee is not paid during a stand down or non-attendance period due to bushfires, but they do continue to accrue leave.
Businesses, if possible, could be flexible by letting employees take a period of paid leave such as annual leave. For office staff, the employee could be granted the opportunity to work from home in the interim, but this is clearly not possible for employees employed in a manufacturing, harvesting, milling and processing or retail capacity.
Businesses should keep employees up to date on the situation if the workplace is not able to operate due to the severe weather.
Volunteer Fire Fighting Obligations
The Fair Work Act (sec108) provides that employees, including casual employees, are entitled to community service leave which includes voluntary emergency management activities.
This may be on a voluntary basis dealing with an emergency or natural disaster such as the current bushfire situation.
A recognised emergency body which the employee may be a member of includes:
- The State Emergency Service (SES)
- Country Fire Authority (CFA)
- The RSPCA in respect of animal rescue during emergencies or natural disasters
How Much Leave is the Employee Entitled To?
An employee is entitled to take community service leave while they are engaged in activity and for reasonable travel and rest time. It should be noted there is no limit to the amount of community service leave they can take; however, this is unpaid leave.
A business is within their rights to request evidence from an employee that they are entitled to community service leave.
At this stage, all we can hope for is improved weather conditions and fast. Our best wishes are with all the business owners, their staff and those brave persons fighting the fires in the regions affected in NSW and QLD.
If any Member has any queries regarding their business or staff in this situation, you are welcome to contact the TTIA Timber Employers Hotline on (02) 9264 0011 or my mobile on 0419 012 522 to discuss further.
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This article was provided by Brian Beecroft, CEO of FTMA Safety Expert’s TTIA.