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Working in sport in 2020: why a 'user friendly' modern award is required to protect employees and meet industry expectations

View all · 18 May 2020 · revolutioniseSPORT

The modern award for sport professionals exists to offer protection and workplace flexibility for employees within the Australian sporting landscape. However, when truly analysed, it is more an illusion of flexibility than anything else. 

The award for sporting professionals sets a benchmark of what employees can expect at the bare minimum. Essentially, this award is designed to protect employees' rights by accurately addressing what is not only expected, but also required, within the industry.

The current modern award for sport is the Sporting Organisations Award 2020, which applies to employees of national, state and territory sporting organisations throughout Australia.

This award lists "ordinary working hours" as 6:00am to 6:00pm, with ‘flexibility’ only achieved by working a specified number of hours within a 10- to 20-day cycle (e.g. by working more in one week, to work less in another). 

More specifically:

  1. The Sporting Organisations Award defines full-time employment as 38 ordinary hours within a 5-day week, usually 6.00am and 6.00pm, Monday to Sunday.  
  2. The Award lists some “flexible” hours for working 9 days over a 10 day work cycles: “Employees working 42 ordinary hours in one week and 34 ordinary hours in another week”. 
  3. Similarly, for employees working 19 days over a 20-day work cycle: “Employees working 40 ordinary hours for 3 weeks and 32 ordinary hours in another week”. 

Compared to other industries, sport seems to be at a standstill when it comes to an award that acknowledges how the industry truly operates. In general, workplaces are starting to offer more flexible working arrangements, including working from home or adjusted schedules, as opposed to the traditional Monday to Friday “cubicles within an office space”. Current working arrangements for most employees have been modelled on a corporate culture of in-office work during “corporate” working hours. 

However, sport is unique in that a good portion of the work occurs away from the office. Sport requires greater flexibility than traditional 9-to-5 jobs and this is not reflected in the current award. The sporting industry has sporadic working patterns mostly set around seasonal training, competitions and events. These commitments would typically occur either outside of "ordinary working hours", which is not acknowledged in or supported by the current award, and hence offers little benefit to employees working in sport. 

The impact of COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine has illustrated that non-traditional methods of operation, including more flexible working conditions, are not only possible, but also quite effective.

For all of the negatives, this pandemic has given the sporting industry the perfect opportunity to explore how flexible working arrangements could feasibly be incorporated into a new norm.

The current Sporting Organisations Award 2020 offers a semblance of flexibility through options, such as being able to spread 38 hours of work Monday to Friday, as well as allowing for truncated weeks. While a positive start, these offer only a basic level of flexibility that might not confer the greatest advantage or protection to those working within the industry.

The reason an amendment to the award structures for professionals in sport is necessary is simple. Sport does not adhere to standard norms where, week on week, employees work the same hours, at the same office, performing mostly the same role(s). 

Instead, due to the nature of the sporting industry, staff and administrators are often required to work 'like a volunteer'. This means that instead of working a standard 9-to-5 day, it may be more efficient and effective to work from 2pm-9pm. This creates a greater overlap between professional administrators and their key stakeholders - the volunteer base - and facilitates more immediate support and communication between staff and volunteers.    

The current employment award for employees working within the sporting industry does not adequately address the need for employees to be on hand at non-traditional times and/or during special event periods. 

If this gap remains ignored, employees may grow increasingly disenfranchised, feel that their contributions are going unrecognised, and believe that they are not being remunerated commensurate with their invested time and effort. This can quickly turn into active staff disengagement, and ultimately lead to their departure, which in turn impacts the sport with huge costs (both financial and time) in terms of staff turnover, change management, and loss of valuable contextual knowledge.

Therefore, the employee award is something that needs to be remedied to ensure the continued wealth, growth and success of sport.

The Sporting Organisations Award 2020 applies to staff of national, state and territory sporting organisations throughout Australia. It defines full-time employment as 38 ordinary hours within a 5-day week, usually 6.00am and 6.00pm, Monday to Sunday. 

Within the award it is stated that employees are not able to exceed 11 hours of work on any one day as well as being given 5 rostered days off in any 12-month period. However, as we know from working in sport, this can be a relatively common occurrence, especially for major events and competitions, which again highlights the incongruence between the award and reality. 

There are some positive flexible arrangements such as the 9-day fortnight, alternating work weeks and working excess hours in some weeks to work less the next, or to work a day less within a cycle. However, other areas, such as ordinary hours being listed as 6.00am – 6.00pm, seem at odds with what is expected by administrators working in sport.

There are a number of practical solutions that could improve the working conditions of not only professionals employed within the sporting industry.

1. 9-day fortnight

     a. Working 5 days one week and then 4 days the alternating week, to have time to work a weekend shift, e.g. for a game day or event.

2. Non-traditional hours of work

     a. Working weeknights and weekends to cater for the shifting time requirements of the sport and to more closely align with the schedules of volunteers.

3. Bulk workloads during a specific segment of the year

     a. If a season runs for 4-6 months, an individual could work 6 days a week or 10 hours a day for 5 days a week. In exchange for this, the other 6-8 months could return to a lighter schedule, such as 3-4 days per week or 5-6 hours per day.

4. Alternating/balancing work weeks

     a. Depending on how much work is completed per week, this can be balanced out with flexibility the next week.

     b. E.g. Week 1 = 6 days worked. Week 2 = 4 days worked.

5. Elite athlete provisions

     a. Elite athletes may need to train 2-3 hours per day, and may need specific time off during the week for games or events.

     b. Attending a championship event may require 2-4 weeks off to travel to, train for, and compete in a competition.

Flexible working conditions are essential to those working within the sporting industry as the majority of competitions, tournaments, events, stakeholder management and even general administration takes place outside of the normal 9-to-5 timeframe.  

The challenge with the current award is that it fails to adequately address these requirements. No sport is the same, nor would it be feasible to establish an award for each type of sport. 

Consequently, the changes should be broad enough to address general industry themes and requirements, while still allowing for flexibility between different types of sport, thus offering greater protection and empowerment to those working in sport. Our staff and administrators deserve recognition for the tireless work they do (and the hours in which they do it!), and amending the award is a great way to ensure their continued engagement, commitment, and fulfilment within the sporting industry.


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Originally published on LinkedIn.