State IR law to conform with federal rules

The state government is to make a series of changes to industrial relations in Queensland in a bid to bring the state in line with federal legislation.

The IR Act (Fair Work Harmonisation) Amendment Bill will amend the Industrial Relations Act 1999, the legislation which regulates the industrial relations system in Queensland and covers the state’s 245,000 public service workers, by adjusting a number of areas in which it differs from the federal Fair Work Act.

Balloting

The act does not currently regulate the process for balloting employees for industrial action. The new bill brings in provisions from the Fair Work Act, including a requirement that more than 50 per cent of employees respond to a ballot for it to be valid, that more than 50 per cent of the votes cast are in favour before action can be taken, and that ballots are by post and be conducted by the Electoral Commission Queensland. The bill also allows the employer to ballot employees directly on any enterprise bargaining offer.

Terminating industrial action

The bill gives the government the capacity to terminate industrial action, if the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) “fails to do so”, but only if it is satisfied that the action is “ threatening the safety and welfare of the community or damaging the economy”.

Employers’ ability to pay

The government is to be given the capacity to brief the QIRC on the state’s financial position, and the QIRC will be compelled to state that it has “considered the employer’s ability to pay” in any written decision it makes on a wage dispute. However, it remains free to make whatever decision it deems appropriate.

Appeals

Appeals against some decisions concerning public service employment will be transferred from the Public Service Commission to the QIRC, but will remain under the terms of the Public Service Act.

A number of areas of difference between the state legislation and the Fair Work Act have not been affected.

Bargaining and representation

The Queensland legislation will continue to require that agreements are made with unions or individuals, not both. The federal act allows individuals to act as bargaining representatives alongside unions.

Individual flexibility agreements

A FWA clause which allows employers and employees to opt out of specific provisions in a certified agreement has not been adopted in Queensland.

Unfair dismissal

The conciliation conference currently required before an unfair dismissal case can go to arbitration is retained, even though it is not included in the FWA.

Demarcation

The federal demarcation provisions, which have increasingly put pressure on unions to compete for members, have not been adopted.

Right of entry

The right of entry provisions of the federal legislation have not been included.
The QTU has been advised that the amendments will not be retrospective, i.e. they will not apply to any matters before the Commission before the legislation passes.

We will continue to go through the bill in detail, to identify any other changes that may impact on teachers. Visit the QTU website for updates.

Kate Ruttiman
Deputy General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 4, 1 June 2012, p22