Restoring Fairness Bill introduced and SMO contracts to go

The State Government today introduced into Parliament the first tranche of its reforms to industrial relations in the State public sector – the Industrial Relations (Restoring Fairness) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Bill).

The Bill seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1999 (IR Act) to:

  • Restore the conditions of employment in awards and agreements covering State Government employees that were made unenforceable by the previous government, including:
    • employment security
    • contracting out
    • union encouragement
    • organisational change
    • policy incorporation
    • private practice for medical officers
    • resource allocation and restrictions on Termination Change and Redundancy (TCR) provisions and protections on the privacy of personal employee information.
  • Remove the requirement that the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) must consider the relevant employer’s financial position and the State’s financial position and fiscal strategy as part of public interest in wage arbitration matters
  • Remove the power for parties to have legal representation for most matters in the QIRC without the consent of all parties
  • Remove prohibitions and qualifications on content that can be included in a modern award or certified agreement in the future, and
  • Remove the notice requirements for a union officer to enter a workplace and exercise rights under the IR Act. This will allow union officials to enter workplaces without prior notice.

The Bill also provides for the re-commencement of the Award modernisation process commenced under the previous government’s legislation. For the 10 Modern Awards already made under that legislation, the Bill provides for what is being referred to as a ‘washing’ process, in which the QIRC must:

  • Remove previously mandated consistent clauses relating to consultation around major organisational change, dispute resolution and individual flexibility arrangements
  • Insert the following clauses from the relevant pre-modernised award which applied to all or some of the employees to whom the relevant modern award applies:
    • Union encouragement
    • Union delegates
    • Industrial relations education leave or trade union training leave
    • Right of entry for union officials
    • Dispute and grievance resolution, and
    • Termination, change and redundancy.

For awards not yet modernised, they will proceed through the modernisation process in the QIRC without the application of the award content rules imposed by the previous government.

If the award modernisation process resulted in a significant reduction of the number of awards in an industry (such as the local government industry) the QIRC will also be required to re-examine coverage of the modernised award to determine whether to increase the number of awards for that industry.

For the 7 certified agreements made since their underpinning awards were modernised (modern agreements), their nominal expiry date will be brought forward to be three months following the variation of the underpinning award/s.

The Bill also seeks to stop enterprise bargaining before underpinning awards are reviewed by the QIRC.  The QIRC must refuse to certify any agreements if the underpinning award/s has not be reviewed or ‘washed’ by the QIRC.

Importantly for Queensland Health and Hospital and Health Services, the Treasurer and Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations indicated that the government would make amendments to repeal the provisions mandating contracts for all senior medical officers (SMOs) and restore their rights to bargain collectively.

These changes represent significant changes to the industrial relations regime for the public sector and local government. Our public sector industrial relations specialists are across the proposed changes and able to advise agencies on their rights and obligations under the reforms. You should contact Michael Moy 07 3233 8720 or 0439 060 343 if you have any queries about the impact of these changes for your agency.