Australian Unions are fighting a push by employer groups that could see workers never taking annual leave.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said around two million Australian workers could be impacted by the employers’ push for a clause to be entered into awards allowing annual leave to be cashed out.

Australian Unions will contest the employer claim in the Fair Work Commission today under the review of the modern award system.

“Annual leave is for rest and recreation. Exchanging it for cash defeats its purpose,” Ms Kearney said.

“There is nothing in the employers’ clause to ensure that people will ever get a break from work. Employees can simply accrue four weeks leave but never take it, then continually cash the rest out.”

Ms Kearney said the clause will affect employees who rely upon the safety net and have limited bargaining power in the workplace.

“The reality is that many of the lowest paid workers who are covered by awards will be forced to cash out their leave and never take a break just to make ends meet.”

Ms Kearney said cashing out annual leave will let employers squeeze extra work out of their employees, while not having to make arrangements to cover staff on leave or properly manage rosters so employees can take annual leave at a particular time.

“Employers shouldn’t be looking for ways to stop people from taking leave, they should be looking for ways to support their employees to have a break and return to work happier, healthier and more productive.

“The employers say excessive leave is a problem and they need capacity to manage leave accruals. We don’t accept that cashing out is the answer,” Ms Kearney said.

Instead, Australian Unions have proposed a new award clause that will allow employees and employers to negotiate a suitable time for an employee to take leave if they have built up 2 years’ worth of leave.

“Big leave balances aren’t in anyone’s interests so we are proposing a fair and sensible process whereby employers and employees can reach agreement on when leave is taken.”

“This gives both the employer and employee flexibility while still safeguarding the long standing entitlement to annual leave.”

Ms Kearney dismissed claims by employers that it was unfair that cashing out is available to some employees but not to those under awards.

“Annual leave must be protected as part of the safety net. If employers want to pursue cashing out of annual leave then they can do so by negotiating an enterprise agreement with their staff.”