On 23 April 2015, Curtis Pitt, Queensland's Industrial Relations Minister, announced a comprehensive raft of industrial relations reforms. The Palaszczuk Government is expected to legislate the reforms in late 2015, following an upcoming review of Queensland industrial relations laws carried out by academics and Government and union representatives.
The reforms include reversing the previous Government's controversial amendment to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) in 2014, which requires work health and safety (WHS) entry permit holders (usually union officials) to provide Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU's) with at least 24 hours written notice before entering workplaces to investigate suspected safety contraventions.
The Palaszczuk Government will move to restore the immediate right of entry provisions for WHS permit holders where there are suspected safety concerns. According to Pitt, the reforms "will ensure the hard fought and won working rights of Queenslanders lost under the previous government are returned".
The 2014 right of entry amendments were made by the then Newman Government after the construction industry raised concerns about the misuse of right of entry powers by union officials and the inconsistencies in entry notification requirements that exist between states. According to a February 2014 statement by Jarrod Bleijie, the then State Attorney-General, the 2014 amendments were made to prevent unions using "loopholes in the system to force their way onto worksites and lock workers out".
The pending industrial relations reforms are in accordance with the Labor party's election campaign promise to reverse the LNP Government's changes made to the State's mirror WHS Act.
Along with restoring the immediate right of entry provisions, Mr Pitt said the Government's IR reforms also include:
- protections against the contracting out of government services
- re-establishing the Electrical Safety Commission
- returning Labour Day to May from 2016
- improving employment security for public servants, and
- restoring the independence of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.
Implications for employers
Should the Palaszczuk Government's amendments to the right of entry provisions change as proposed, PCBU's should expect to see increased union visits to their workplaces and increased compliance costs as union members choose when to visit members or potential members in workplaces.
The proposed amendments, if implemented, are likely to see a shift back towards a union friendly industrial relations system in Queensland.