Portable leave scheme flagged for NSW community workers in domestic violence, community housing, homelessness

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NSW has announced plans to provide a transferable furlough program to workers in the local government sector to enable the workforce, most of whom work on a contract basis, to take advantage of this entitlement.

Up to 250,000 workers in occupations such as domestic and family violence support, social housing and homelessness services could benefit from new industry-wide laws introduced by New South Wales State Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis last Wednesday.

If passed, employers would be entitled to six weeks of paid leave after seven years in the industry (instead of the current 10 weeks). Labor market data suggests that 25 percent of workers leave their current jobs each year.

The rules apply to all workers in the sector, regardless of their length of service and whether they are employed on a casual, part-time or permanent full-time basis.

As with similar schemes introduced for cleaners in 2011, workers who sign up to the scheme within the first six months will be granted a one-off one-year credit, meaning they will be able to claim their long service entitlements after six years in the industry.

When employees will begin recording their length of service will be determined once the law is passed.

Employees in the public service sector who receive a minimum wage will also benefit from the 3.75 percent increase in the statutory minimum wage and minimum collective wage agreements announced last week.

Ms Cotsis said it was time for workers in the municipal sector, most of whom are women, to also be entitled to these benefits.

“It is not enough that some public sector employees have worked for decades without special leave due to fixed-term contracts and job changes,” she said.

“These are tough jobs, mostly done by women, and they deserve a break.”

NSW’s laws are modeled on provisions introduced in Queensland following consultation with employers, peak associations and the Australian Services Union (ASU).

ASU Secretary Angus McFarland called on NSW to “catch up with Queensland, Victoria, the Northern Territory and South Australia”, which introduced a similar program in December last year.

“The transferable long-term leave recognises the commitment of service members to the NSW community,” he said.

“Community workers change jobs due to factors beyond their control. Changes in community needs and reprioritization of government funding can result in resources and jobs being shifted to other areas.”

He added that reducing the period of time employees must work to be eligible for holiday from ten to seven years takes into account the high risk of burnout in the industry.

“It is a stressful, complex and emotionally draining job for frontline workers in municipal services,” he said.

“Long-term leave gives people the opportunity to go on holiday, pursue further education or simply spend time with their family. We hope that this will help us attract and retain people in the sector.”

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