Keeping businesses open and looking after workers during COVID-19

Sandra Parker PSM

Sandra Parker PSM, the Fair Work Ombudsman

Sue Weston PSM

Sue Weston PSM, Chief Executive Officer, Comcare

The Fair Work Ombudsman, Sandra Parker PSM, and Comcare’s Chief Executive Officer, Sue Weston PSM, were recently interviewed by David Pembroke, Founder and CEO of contentgroup, for the Work with Purpose podcast.

With JobKeeper moving into a different phase, Sandra noted that governments and public servants and other organisations were well aware of the potential for a wave of mental health impacts on Australian society, and have put a lot of support in place.

“There’s no question there’s anxiety.

Just walking around Melbourne … it’s great to see shops reopening, cafes, restaurants, and so on reopening. But there’s a lot of shops with signs on them saying ‘for lease’. That’s going to have a big impact.

When JobKeeper finishes in March, businesses will be back without that government support and we’re going to have to help them. So part of that, as the Fair Work Ombudsman, our role is to assist them … to transition people back to work, to get all those conditions right.

But we will be acutely aware that they’ll be going through really difficult periods … we will need to take account of their financial circumstance in requiring them to back pay workers in a particular time frame. We will need to talk through with them.

Our goal is to help them stay open. It’s not to force them to close.”

Sue reflected on how Comcare adopted the Safe Work Australia Statement of Regulatory Intent very early on — a statement that recognised that these were exceptional circumstances that required a common-sense, proportional approach, provided guidance and focused on the high-risk safety issues.

The Fair Work Ombudsman also followed a proportionate approach to its work. Sandra described how the announcement of adjustments to its compliance and enforcement policy that take account of employers’ circumstances was put into action.

“So … if they’re on JobKeeper, we assume they’re under financial difficulty.

And if they’ve underpaid workers, and we’ve had requests for assistance, or anonymous reports and done an investigation, we negotiate longer timeframes for them to the pay the money back.

So we don’t let them off the hook. They still have to pay the money back. It’s owed to the worker.

But we take account of the fact that they may need longer to pay.”

Sue also paid tribute to the work of her managers within Comcare:

“I think they’re some of the unsung heroes and they are looking out for the mental health of their teams, and able to see the ones who aren’t engaging, and make sure they’re connected up with the information that’s available.”

WORK WITH PURPOSE is produced in partnership between contentgroup and IPAA ACT, with the support of the Australian Public Service Commission.

The podcast can be accessed from the link below and is also available on Spotify, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Work with Purpose

Episode #30: Workplace health and safety: a common sense approach with Sandra Parker PSM and Sue Weston PSM