There is a general right to tell most employees not to turn up for work but there is no general right not to pay them because work is not available.
To lay an employee off there must be an express contractual right under their contract of employment. Alternatively, there may be an agreement covering the issue between the company and the union, or a national agreement for the industry which the employer follows. Such an agreement has contractual force only if it is incorporated into the individual employee’s contract of employment.
The right to lay off an employee may also be implied if it can be shown that it has been established over a long period by custom and practice. There must be clear evidence that this is customary and has been established over a long period of time.
An agreement may be reached by the employer and employee to alter the terms of the contract to allow lay-offs by mutual agreement. Any such agreement will only be valid for that one particular situation where the employer and employee have agreed. However, this will not necessarily mean that the employee has agreed to allow future lay-offs without pay.
Both parties may agree to alter the contract terms so that the lay-off is not a unilateral act by the employer but by mutual agreement (for example, where the only alternative is redundancy). For more information, read Change of employment terms.