Skip to main content

Sky News with Paul Murray



Subjects: JobKeeper; unfair dismissal

PAUL MURRAY: Alright. Now, Christian Porter is the Industrial Relations Minister in Australia. Can you believe that there are workers who are saying: I don't have to turn up to work because I'm on JobKeeper? Well, that's crap. Of course, there's 25 million variables, 16 million variables in the workforce, but you have to still go to work even if the taxpayer is covering part of your wage for up to the next few months. I wanted to talk to him about this because it is increasingly an issue where people are telling the boss: I'm sorry, I'm not coming to work because of JobKeeper. We talked in Canberra.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So there's two things you couldn't do; as an employee, you couldn't just not turn up to work right. That is your obligation as an employee. So, if you said: right, I want my $1,500 but I'm just refusing to do what I normally do - you wouldn't be able to do that, and one of the penalties might be dismissal depending on what your contract is. The other thing that couldn't happen is an employer can't force someone to work up their hours to the $1,500. So, those two things shouldn't be happening.

Now, we've heard anecdotally examples that these things might be happening in very limited circumstances. But one piece of good news is that the Fair Work Commission's only heard just over 200 matters under the JobKeeper scheme which I think's probably indication that most people are just behaving with common sense, seeing it for what it is which is a game changing assistance to ensure that people keep their jobs and that businesses survive and that employers and employees are just dealing with individual circumstances sensibly.

PAUL MURRAY: But as a rule, and again, individual complications; you have to go to work. If the boss says that the job is there to be done; you have to turn up. What part of assistance versus earnings makes up what somebody gets paid is irrelevant; you're there to perform the task.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that's right. And so, we changed the Fair Work Act so that the JobKeeper scheme could function properly. And what that meant was that it was possible for an employer to give directions to an employee during these emergency periods about their duties of work, their location of work, their hours of work. Employees still have to turn up and do the work that's required, their usual work. So, whether that's a casual or a part time employee or a full time employee; you still have to do the work that you are usually required to do or you're directed to do by your employer to receive the funding. And we've designed it as simply as possible as a lifeboat for, you know, thousands and thousands of businesses and employees to try and get them across this very, very difficult period, so that they can come out the other end and bounce back and take opportunities and grow again.

PAUL MURRAY I was talking to a couple of mates of mine, who are employment lawyers, over the weekend, and they work on the behalf of workers who believe that they've been dudded. And the Fair Work Commission has apparently put out some information that there's been a massive surge in the number of people that are going for unfair dismissal claims - that would seem logical when the economy has been hit so hard as this. But do you think that there is going to be a surge in unfair dismissals because people are just using this as an opportunity to sack unproductive workers? Or do you think the truth is that, look, of course there's going to be a greater spike in cases because there's clearly more disruption to the labour market?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: We would have expected during this period where so sadly so many people found their businesses struggling, found their employment in jeopardy, where there were stand downs where some businesses just weren't able to function, that you were very likely to get an increase in the number of complaints being heard in the Fair Work Commission around dismissals, unfair dismissals and general protection actions. We've seen that, we've been watching the listings very, very closely. I don't think it's a case of either employees or employers taking advantage of any particular situation, I just think it's a function of volume, and very unfortunately we had a lot of people out of work as we went into this emergency. And of course, that's what JobKeeper is there to do; is to sort of bridge us between the emergency of the pandemic to the other side of it, and try and keep that connectivity between employers and employees.

PAUL MURRAY: He's a good man, I am glad that he is there as the Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter.