Employers have been left to pick up the tab of workers who have had to take time off work to battle hundreds of bushfires still burning across the country.
The Australian public, employee groups and politicians have raised the issue of volunteer compensation as an unusually long and devastating bushfire season sees volunteers away from their jobs, their businesses and their families for months at a time.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three days ago that volunteer firefighters who were federal government employees would receive four weeks’ paid leave, but has previously rejected calls for other volunteers to be compensated by the government, stating they “want to be there”.
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“The volunteer effort is a big part of our natural disaster response and it is a big part of how Australia has always dealt with these issues,” Morrison said.
“We are constantly looking at ways to better facilitate the volunteer effort, but to professionalise that at that scale is not a matter that has previously been accepted and it’s not currently under consideration by the government.”
He urged corporate Australia to “take that role on” – and some of Australia’s largest employers have.
Number of employees: 201,000
Woolworths today released a statement announcing that paid leave entitlements for staff covered by an Enterprise Agreement who volunteer for fire services have been extended from two weeks to four weeks.
They will be eligible to take more leave after four weeks, subject to approval.
Salaried staff are already eligible for uncapped paid leave for volunteer rural firefighting duties, also subject to approval after four weeks.
Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said that some Woolworths staff had been volunteering as firefighters during the busiest time of the year for the company.
“In support of their community spirit, and with the inevitability of more challenges in the weeks and months ahead, we have made the decision to extend paid leave entitlements for our EA team members volunteering in the rural fire services.”
“The ferocity of this year’s bushfire season has been visible to us all, and has tragically taken the life of one of our own team,” he said.
Yahoo Finance has reached out to Wesfarmers for comment.
Number of employees: Over 100,000
A Coles spokesperson said paid leave was provided to “permanent and casual team members” involved in voluntary emergency services.
“Coles appreciates the contribution of the thousands of Australians who volunteer throughout the year to protect our communities from bushfires and other natural disasters.”
Number of employees: Over 100,000
A spokesperson for the fast food chain confirmed “emergency service paid leave arrangements” for all full-time and part-time employees participating in recognised voluntary emergency services.
Number of Australian employees: 18,146
One of the biggest employers in Australia the metals and mining giant offers NSW and Queensland employees paid community service leave, which includes volunteer emergency management activities such as fire-fighting.
“Community service leave shall be for the time actually required and has no limit,” according to BHP’s Leave Management Policy document obtained by Yahoo Finance. However, leave extending beyond four weeks will be subject to approval.
“Employees on community service leave will be paid their normal salary, less any fees paid to the employee for performing the community service activity.”
Big Four Banks
Total number of employees: roughly 176,000
The Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and NAB have all announced varying policies that provide leave to staff battling the bushfires.
ANZ, Westpac and NAB have provided uncapped paid leave for emergency service volunteers, while CBA provides 20 days of special leave.
However, a CBA spokesperson told Yahoo Finance that the policy is flexible and on a case-by-case basis, meaning staff are able to get more leave than 20 days if needed.
“Crisis leave will be granted to employees who, as a member of a volunteer organisation such as the SES, CFA, RFS, are called to assist the local community during a declared emergency, or in other exceptional circumstances affecting the community,” according to a statement released by NAB yesterday.
On top of uncapped paid leave offered to employees who are emergency services volunteers, a Westpac spokesperson told Yahoo Finance it was also encouraging flexible work.
Mitsubishi Motors Australia
Number of Mitsubishi Australia employees: 102
The Australian branch of the Japanese car importer has extended its paid leave from one week to four after Morrison’s call for employers to do more.
“We have a number of staff who volunteer for the CFS and other frontline organisations, and we are very proud to be able to stand beside them as they keep our communities safe,” Mitsubishi Motors Australia CEO John Signoriello said in a statement.
“In response to the Prime Minister’s call to action for companies to offer extended emergency service leave for their staff, our management committee is pleased to extend this leave from the current one week to four weeks effective immediately.”
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