Workforce wants leave flexibility

IT’S a paradox of modern workplaces that so-called time saving technology seems to create more work and leaves less time for recreation and holidays. Figures on hours worked support this view, suggesting we are working longer each week.

While complaints about work conditions often go no further than the water cooler, a recent Australian Council of Trade Unions survey into employee sentiment indicates how deep the concerns about free time run in Australia’s workplaces.

The July survey revealed that 81 per cent of employees would like more flexible leave arrangements.

As a result of the survey, an application is currently before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that will pave the way for employees to ‘purchase’ leave, allowing for more flexible leave arrangements.

All employees under Federal awards and agreements will have the right to up to 10 weeks’ annual leave, including six weeks of purchased leave, should the application be approved.

Purchased leave is not new to the Australian workplace, having been introduced in 1997.

It allows employees to reduce their salary in exchange for extra periods of leave, and in its current form requires prior negotiation between employer and employee.

Purchased leave can be taken in two forms:

48/52, where a reduction in pay is negotiated in exchange for an extra four weeks leave; and

4/5, where an employee works at 80 per cent of their salary for four years, and takes the fifth year off while still on 80 per cent pay.

But according to ACCI’s Bruce Williams, purchased leave is limited to the private sector in WA, as well as some Federal public servants, and is not widely available.

The ACTU is aiming to adjust several industrial award standards to: allow employees to ‘buy’ up to six weeks a year extra annual leave through averaged salary adjustments; and allow employees to request changes to start and finish times.

In response to this, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has put forward counter proposals to the AIRC – proposals that still include purchased leave, but only when negotiated through agreement with employers.

Other propositions incorporate more flexible leave arrangements and the opportunity to cash leave loading. Murdoch University has offered staff the option of purchased leave since 2001.

Human Resources director Chris Jeffery said purchased leave was included as an optional extra for staff, in order to meet their growing flexibility requirements.

“We introduced it just as a benefit for staff to take advantage of,” he said.

“We include it in the induction process. They [staff members] are made aware that the benefit exists.”

But despite the university’s efforts, only six people have taken up the option in the two years, including just one for the 4/5 alternative.

A supporter of the scheme, Mr Jeffery said it was difficult to ascertain why so few people had taken it up, although he suspected many workers were not prepared to reduce their take-home salary.

At the moment the 48/52 leave package is only offered as one four-week block, but Mr Jeffery said the university was currently looking at alternative options, such as employees choosing how they took their purchased leave – for example in blocks of one, two, three or four weeks.

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