Unions making application to vary health sector awards - Paid Pandemic Leave

The Full Bench of the FWC handed down a decision on 8 April 2020 which provides for amendments to a range of awards to include unpaid pandemic leave and the ability for employees to take annual leave at half pay. Several unions expressed concern during the proceedings regarding those workers who are occupationally more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in their day to day jobs. As a consequence, on 16 April 2020, the HSU, ACTU, ANMF and APESMA lodged applications in the Fair Work Commission seeking variations to a range of Health Sector Modern Awards.

14 May 2020

The applications propose two additional entitlements for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. For ACSA purposes, these measures will affect members operating under the Modern Awards as they apply to workers in aged care and social and community services. These variations will not apply if you are utilising enterprise agreements in your workplaces.

The proposed amendments include provisions for:

  1. ‘Paid pandemic leave’ – a worker receives two weeks paid leave each time they are required by the government, their employer, or a doctor to self-isolate for the mandatory 14-day period due to exposure to COVID-19.

    • NOTE – Unions are seeking that employers bear the cost of ‘paid pandemic leave’. Currently, this is not government funded and would be additional to any other leave entitlements e.g. personal leave, annual leave etc.

  2. ‘Special leave where an employee contracts COVID-19’ – it is proposed that when a worker is absent from work due to contracting COVID-19, it will be without loss of pay, until the worker has medical clearance to return to work.

    • NOTE - The special leave is proposed to be additional to personal leave. For example, under normal circumstances if an employee was to contract a communicable disease, they would be entitled to access paid or unpaid personal leave. The unions’ proposal is that should an employee contract COVID-19 they would be entitled to special leave, over and above their personal leave entitlements under the NES. Unions are seeking that employers bear the cost of ‘special leave’. Currently, there is no funding for the proposed additional entitlement.


It is proposed that these additional entitlements be applied to all nine health and social care awards:

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services Award 2010

  • Aged Care Award 2010

  • Ambulance and Patience Transport Industry Award 2010

  • Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010

  • Medical Practitioners Award 2010

  • Nurses Award 2010

  • Pharmacy Industry Award 2010

  • Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010

  • Supported Employment Services Award 2010


The HSU claim that health, aged and community care workers are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19, and therefore more likely to be required to self-isolate and on more than one occasion. In making this claim they rely on the following article ‘SARS-CoV-2 viral load and the severity of COVID-19’ – published by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford and referenced in the HSU submission to AM2020/12.

The unions also claim that the additional measures will aim to assist and maintain the living standards of these workers in the event they are required to self-isolate or seek treatment due to exposure or infection by COVID-19. In support they argue affected workers are low paid relative to those who are not award dependent and are low paid as measured against the benchmark of two thirds of median weekly full-time earnings.

The unions have made their submission and lodged their witness statements with the FWC. Employer parties must file outlines of submissions and evidence by 17th June and the matter has been listed for hearing before a Full Bench of the FWC on Thursday 25 and Friday 26 June. Currently, there is no government funding to pay for the additional entitlements which have been proposed by the unions and consequently, ACSA opposes the applications to vary the awards. We will be represented during the proceedings by Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors.  


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