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Since the introduction of the Fair Work Act 2009 and modern award system in 2010, most optometry businesses have treated optometrists as award free while optical dispensers and other retail support staff (employed in shopping centres) have been treated as retail staff under the General Retail Industry Award 2010.

Uncertainty has now been created across the optometry sector due to a media release placed on the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) website stating that optometrists, optical dispensers and other retail support staff should be covered by the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010.

The FWO has confirmed that the position stated in the recent media release followed on from the 2014/2015 National Health Care and Social Assistance Campaign in which the FWO audited 266 allied health services businesses. Unfortunately, although we were involved in the 2014/2015 Campaign, the media release was developed without consultation with Optometry Australia.

Optometry Australia and Industry Legal Group, in consultation with the FWO, is working towards providing members with clarity on this award coverage issue.

Steps we are taking

1.     Meeting with the Fair Work Ombudsman

On 28 March 2019, Optometry Australia’s CEO, Lyn Brodie, and Industry Legal Group, met with representatives from the FWO office to discuss the content of the original media release and how such a decision could potentially impact on Optometry Australia’s members.

In this meeting, Optometry Australia provided the FWO with necessary background information on the sector including the nature and structure of optometry practices in a retail environment, and the duties of employees such as optical dispensers. Ms Brodie also explained to the FWO the existing rationale for classifying support staff under the General Retail Industry Award 2010.

Ms Brodie said that while it was a productive meeting, “we have some work ahead of us to ensure ‘a meeting of the minds’ around our shared understanding of the role of optometrists, optical dispensers and other retail support staff employed in optometry practices in retail settings across Australia, and how this may impact advice around award coverage”.

Ms Brodie notes that although the FWO has amended their media release to state that the question of award coverage is currently under review, its current position is that optometrists, optical dispensers and other retail support staff are covered by the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010.

“As such, for now at least, the status quo remains unchanged”, Ms Brodie said.

Optometry Australia understands should the FWO need to investigate an award breach with an individual employer, the FWO will not intentionally blindly pursue employers who are trying to be compliant. Instead, they will apply a ‘harm test’ to determine whether further action is warranted.

Optometry Australia strongly recommends that if you are contacted by a FWO officer to conduct an audit and/or in relation to award coverage, that you contact Optometry Australia on 03 9668 8500.

2.     Preparing submissions

Optometry Australia is currently preparing submissions to provide to the FWO to assist its representatives to better understand the duties and responsibilities of optometrists, optical dispensers and retail support staff within an optometry practice in a retail setting. Such submissions may also be forwarded to the Fair Work Commission to be considered as a part of the four-yearly review of modern awards under their Modern Award Review process, or as part of a separate application.

3.     Benchmarking across awards

Optometry Australia is also undertaking an awards benchmarking exercise to determine to what extent, if any, a change of award coverage may have on members employing optometrists, optical dispensers and retail support staff.

We will continue to provide updates to members as any new information comes to hand.

Should you wish to provide your thoughts to us regarding award coverage of either optometrists or optical dispensers and retail support staff, we ask that you email Industry Legal Group on oa@industrylegalgroup.com.au.

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