IR law changes introduced to State Parliament
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 5, 8 July 2022, page no.6
The Queensland Government has introduced new laws that will strengthen protections against sexual harassment and protect workers from organisations misrepresenting themselves as unions.
The wide-ranging Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2022 beefs up legislation to prevent harassment in the workplace, places renewed focus on gender pay equity, modernises employment leave standards, allows setting of minimum pay rates for courier drivers, and clarifies the status of registered unions, as well as protecting workers against sham entities misrepresenting their ability to represent workers.
The Bill proposes Australia’s strongest set of laws to protect workers against sexual, sex, or gender-based harassment.
In 2020, the Human Rights Commission Respect@Work Report found that, on average, two in every five women and one in every four men had experienced sexual harassment over the previous five years.
The protections introduced in the Bill do not limit or restrict the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission’s powers to deal with a dispute about sexual, sex or gender-based harassment, giving it the full scope of its powers, including the capacity to issue injunctions and exercise its conciliation or arbitration powers in proceedings, to prevent and respond to disputes about harassment.”
The reforms will also allow the QIRC to protect workers from being dismissed or threatened with harm if they make a work-related complaint about harassment or discrimination.
The Commission will also be able to issue injunctions to prevent harm to a person, including an injunction to prevent them being dismissed after making a complaint, where the person has made a work-related complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination under Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws.
Importantly, these new laws will build on the current provisions in Queensland modern awards that require any grievance made about sexual harassment to be elevated directly to the chief executive of an organisation or their delegate, and for referral to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission for resolution if the matter is not resolved within 14 days.
The Bill contains other important reforms, including ensuring that parties are addressing gender pay equity as part of the bargaining process for new agreements, and modernising Queensland employment leave standards relating to parental and sick and carer’s leave.
The Bill also provides important consumer protections to enable a person to pursue an easier civil penalty against an entity which is or has misrepresented itself as a union, and for orders declaring that an entity is not eligible for registration under the Act.
The Bill clarifies the role of unions as a registered organisation under the Industrial Relations Act by using a consistent definition of “industrial organization” as opposed to the current terminology. which mixes the terms registered organisations and industrial associations:
- An industrial organisation is a body registered as an organisation under the Act or a pre-registration organisation.
- A pre-registration organisation is an entity that is eligible for registration under the Act but is not registered and meets certain criteria.
A pre-registration organisation:
- cannot be a corporation or an incorporated association
- must have a principal purpose of protecting and promoting employees’ interests in matters concerning their employment
- is subject to the conveniently belong rule
- exists to further or protect its members interests; and
- has either had:
- at least 20 members who are employees for at least 12 months; or
- at least 100 members who are employees for at least 4 weeks; and
- applies for registration with the 12-month or 4-week period.
These reforms arose from a 2021 decision of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission where an entity with no recognised legal status under the Industrial Relations Act sought to use the protections of the Act. The proposed amendments will clarify those protections.