AI Group’s Stephen Smith discusses the decision handed down by the Fair Work Commission.
Introduction: Blood Donor leave case rejected
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Monday news right around Australia. I just want to have you expand your mind for a moment. When you’re at work, what are the things that you think you should be given the right to do as part of that work? Now, we know that, say for example, some companies will allow people time off for community activities. But who makes the decision as to whether you should or should not be given the right to do that? I’ll take you to one particular case. The Fair Work Commission has just decided on what’s called the Blood Donor Leave Case. This is related to a client from a union that said that employees should be given an entitlement to take paid leave four times a year to donate blood. Now, what’s happened here is that the Fair Work Commission has come down and said, “No, that’s not on.” Now, the claim was actually supported here by the Victorian government, the South Australian government, and the Red Cross, but it was strongly opposed by the Australian Industry Group. Let’s now go to the head of National Workplace Relations at AIG. Steven Smith is on the line. Many thanks for your time, Steven.
Interview with Stephen Smith, Head of National Workplace Relations Policy , Ai Group Management
Steven Smith: That’s fine, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: The Full Bench at the Fair Work Commission has accepted your arguments, rejected the union clients, and also gone against the Red Cross, and the South Australian and Victorian governments. Why is it that a person should not be in a community-minded spirit, be able to go out and donate blood as part of their employment?
Steven Smith: What the Fair Work Commission has said is that donating blood is a very worthwhile and important activity, but people are able to do that in their own time. There’s no need and it would not be fair for employers to be forced to give people paid leave four times a year to donate blood.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, but we do understand that as a community sense, there may be some employers that would allow their workers the time off to go and donate blood. Say for example, at Channel Nine, where I work, that they will actually bring in the Red Cross caravan, and we’ll all wander outside into the car park, and go and donate blood maybe two or three times a year. Now, that is obviously a very community-minded thing for Channel Nine to do. Why would an employer be at all worried, shall we say, if their employees decided that this is something that they chose and wanted to do?
Steven Smith: Yes, there’s a difference, of course, between what an employer might legitimately choose to do. A lot of employers participating in the blood donation services and many other worthwhile community activities . This is a case that was looking at a right. Imagine a small business that might only have one or two employees. If their one or two employees took off for two hours every few months to donate blood as a right, that would cause all sorts of problems no doubt.
Ross Greenwood: The issue here you’re saying is the right, not necessarily whether an employee might be willing to do it and to give some slack so that, quite clearly, the Red Cross can have sufficient blood supplies. This is about the right and the fact that the person is paid to go and donate their blood.
Steven Smith: That’s right. In the case which went on for many months, the evidence in the case showed that the Red Cross does have a very flexible approach to allowing people to donate blood. Some centers are open in the evenings. They have their facilities that come out to different workplaces. There are plenty of opportunities for people to donate blood if they wish to. This was an issue about whether employers should have to release people on paid leave four times a year.
Ross Greenwood: That’s interesting because the Red Cross admitted here that it needs more than 25,000 blood donations weekly to meet the needs of it’s patients who require and rely on blood services to provide them with life-saving products and clinical services. Now clearly, what even your organization would not want to do is to discourage people from donating blood. The question is how much should they be encouraged and who should be encouraging them to make those donations?
Steven Smith: Exactly. If employers are forced to do these things, then often their reaction to that — It’s much better to work with businesses and bring them on board in a cooperative and voluntary way, rather than having a heavy-handed approach, telling businesses that they have to provide this paid leave regardless of the circumstances.
Ross Greenwood: I’m sure that my court will have a lot to say about this, about where the rights lie between the employer and the employee, and about that notion of the right. Because in our community, blood donations are absolutely vital for the health of so many other of our members of our community. The question is who should pay and should it be actually a right as part of your work and your enterprise agreement? That’s an interesting one. Certainly, in this particular case, the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission has said, “No, it is not a right.” In other words, you’ve got to do it on your own time or with the agreement of that employer. But it’s not a right. Great to have you on the program. Steven Smith is the head of National Workplace Relations at the Australian Industry Group. Thanks for your time, Steven.
Steven Smith: Great. Thank you.
Ross Greenwood: I’ll take your calls on that now on 131873. 131873, let me know. Should you have the right to donate blood and be paid to do so as well?