The business is a medium sized manufacturing services company, operating nationally.
The pandemic caused an immediate impact on the business, as it had to remain operational, but reduce the level of its operations. Amongst the added challenges of a growing pandemic, it had to navigate the sensitive process of negotiating an enterprise agreement.

When the Pandemic was announced and measures put into place by the Government for lockdowns, there was uncertainty for business and employees. As soon as the lockdown was announced, the business saw an immediate reduction of work and volume. It made the decision that it intended to remain operational. It also looked for other areas in the business to save costs before looking at any strategies that would result in reducing labour.

Unfortunately, the company faced enough downturn in volume to require some employees to be stood down. The organisation did what it could operationally to ensure as many employees as possible, remained unaffected. The business utilised government support available such as jobkeeper and the legislative flexibilities to implement stand downs. To minimise impact on these employees the business worked with them on a case by case basis to provide options of using their leave entitlements to top up to full weekly earnings if needed.

Bargaining and the Pandemic

The usual bargaining process had commenced. At the start of this process, no one anticipated a global pandemic that would create lockdowns and continue into the new year.

Toward the latter stage of the bargaining process, the Government lockdown orders were made, and Australia had started its pandemic response. The parties had to review their positions based on the uncertainty as to the impact of the pandemic to the business and employees. Employees were also anxious about the health impacts and job security.

Unfortunately, an added complication unrelated to Covid came up. The uncertainty and opportunism by certain employees resulted in a period where the business was forced to consider having to stand down most of its employees. With an older workforce, some employees were attracted to having a payout, via redundancy. The Company’s redundancy scheme was very generous, being uncapped.

The Federal Government’s jobkeeper package was going to be the lifeline the business needed to ensure that it could operate and minimise any redundancies. The business qualified for jobkeeper, but the process required getting agreement from employees to complete the necessary forms.

To be eligible for the subsidy an organisation is required to have employees be “eligible employees”; initially all employees completed the required paperwork, this ensured the organisation was able to access the Jobkeeper subsidy. Shortly after there were a number of employees who wished to withdraw their eligibility. This was to be used as a test case and if successful would provide any unionised workforce with the ability to have their members withdraw their eligibility, which means organisations would not be able to access the Jobkeeper subsidies. The ultimate aim being to ensure a business was not able to operate and that employees would be able to access the FEGS to receive a redundancy payout.

The employees and their representation did not seem to consider that their actions would mean that other employees in the business would also face forced redundancies, as the company would not have been able to continue operating. This would have necessitated deep cuts in labour throughout the business.

The business was forced to bring this matter up with third parties to try and find a resolution to enable them to retain qualification/ eligibility for jobkeeper. In the end, the employees concerned did not fit the criteria to support their claim. The result was that the business was able to continue receiving jobkeeper subsidy and most employees were able to be retained.

JobKeeper was scaled back in September 2020. This created some need for reduction of labour as the business conditions had not improved to pre covid levels.

The Company took various steps to mitigate the need for redundancies such as senior manager pay-cuts and prioritising work in Australia as opposed to overseas.

The business also developed a pandemic plan that ensured that:

  • There was no shift overlap, which reduced risks to people
  • Additional cleaning and sanitisation
  • Strict compliance to health directives
  • Record keeping for the purpose of contact tracing
  • Employees were strictly told not to attend work if they had any symptoms and direction that they had to get tested
  • All employees who were able to work from home were directed to work from home
  • EAP was offered
  • Increased managerial and HR touch ins, to ensure that people’s mental health and well being whilst at work and at work from home were being cared for.


As part of its enterprise agreement process, the Company understood the need for strong and ongoing communications.

The Company had an effective communication strategy throughout its EA negotiations process that ensured that managers had regular communication sessions with their teams, where they provided information about the bargaining status and such updates. Alerts were also provided to all employees which clearly articulated the necessary information. The result was that employees could be confident that they were receiving clear and transparent information.

This mechanism was utilised to explain the steps the company was taking regarding the pandemic and their role in it. Employees were informed, updated and consulted with as appropriate. For those working from home, the adaptation to using technology as the only means to communicate with work colleagues was challenging. This was particularly for those having to juggle home schooling and/or other people in the household also working from home. Generally, employees understood and appreciated the steps the company was taking to preserve jobs. Good communication helped to achieve this.

2021 recovery

Unfortunately, whilst the business was able to continue operating in 2020, it has found that this year has brought with it additional business challenges that continue, particularly with the ongoing lockdowns nationally. Recognising new opportunities amidst these challenging times will be crucial for the business in its recovery efforts in a COVID normal environment.

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