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Newman LNP Government Seeks to Strip Away More of "Your Rights @ Work"

Changes to Industrial Relations Act (Fair Work Harmonisation No 2) & Other Legislation Amendments Bill 2013

I refer you to the previous circular on this matter in which I advised I would provide you with more information on the proposed changes to the Industrial Relations Act that are set to become law on 1 December, 2013.
We have attended a number of meetings on this matter and made a submission to the Parliamentary Committee opposing the changes.

The RTBU attended a briefing session provided by an official from the relevant Government Department overseeing the introduction of this Legislation which illuminated further the intention behind the Legislation. I would like to highlight some of the proposed changes that are set to be binding on everyone employed in the State system as of 1 December 2013.

It should be noted this does not relate to any members employed in the Private Sector as you are not affected by State legislation apart from Workers Compensation (WorkCover).

Existing Agreements

Any existing Enterprise Agreements signed off before 17 October 2013 will run its full course. That means that Bus Drivers and Queensland Rail Traincrew have only narrowly escaped these changes, but there are plenty of you who will be impacted.

Agreements due to expire

The majority of Queensland Rail Agreements are due to expire early next year. However, the Legislation will impose a barrier to the commencement of negotiations on these Agreements. This is because the Government intends to ‘modernise’ (who knows what they mean by that?) all of the underpinning Awards and no Agreements will be allowed to be negotiated until the underpinning Awards are ‘modernised’.

The Government have given themselves 2 years for the modernisation process to be completed. Yet, they have only made provisions for the extension of the current Agreements by 12 months which obviously leaves a significant gap.

That does not mean that there will be an effective wage freeze at the end of the life of your Agreement. Campbell Newman may decide to authorise an interim increase and how much you’re going to get. I’m sure it won’t be quite as generous as the increases the politicians gave themselves!

Timeframes for bargaining

Even if the modernised Rail Award was in place the Legislation provides that the Union and employer can’t start bargaining until a maximum of 60 days before the expiry date of Agreements.

This means that a new Agreement would need to be negotiated to completion within two months to avoid a further penalty on workers. Yes, there is more!

A worker could miss out on a pay rise through no fault of their own as the new Legislation restricts the Industrial Relations Commission from granting an interim pay increase or backdated pay rise.

Further restrictions

The legislation gives us three categories of clauses in Agreements. They are:

the ‘cannot haves
the ‘can haves if you want’ and
the ‘must haves’.

It is the ‘cannot haves’ and the ‘must haves’ that are of the greatest concern.

The precise wording of the ‘must haves’ will be dictated to us by the Government. Unions and Employers will be required to put them into any Agreement that we negotiate word for word. There is no discretion to change the wording even if both parties want to.

These include:

Dispute Settling Procedures
Individual Flexibility Agreements
Consultation

The ‘cannot haves’ in Agreements were spelled out in last week’s newsletter, but here they are for the ease of reference. The following clauses will not be allowed in any agreement negotiated in the State system:

Use of contractors – an employer will be free to use contractors at will.
Employment security – no employee will be able to bank on not being made forcibly redundant.
Organisational change – your employer will be able to restructure however and whenever they see fit.
Removal of your right to pay your Union subscriptions by Payroll Deduction – most already knew this was on the way. You must move to direct debit, credit card, etc. to avoid your union membership lapsing.
No incorporation of policies – this means that the policies of the employer cannot be included in the agreement. Currently there are a number of policies that cannot be amended unilaterally by the employer without collective consent. This will no longer be the case. Your employer will be able to change all of their policies at will and without consent.
No clause that provides that policies can only be amended by agreement (see above)
Restricts the types of engagement – this means that your Agreements cannot contain a restriction on the use of contractors, or part-time or casual staffing levels.
Restricts flexible rostering arrangements – the existing restrictions on flexible rostering are a safety factor. If your employer can amend your roster however they see fit, they will have no restriction on the number of hours or when those hours should be worked. Your rosters are at risk.
Restricts the efficient delivery of services – As mentioned last week, this is undefined and it is unclear how far it would stretch. We wait and see how this one will pan out following the eventual publication of the regulations pertaining to this Legislation.

Protected action ballots

These will be much more difficult to pursue under this Legislation as there is a number of actions the employer can take to undermine, postpone or cancel a ballot.

The Union has put a submission into the Parliamentary Committee which reports back to Parliament before 14 November, but hold little hope of any substantial changes as this is ideological Legislation which is meant to undermine the rights of workers covered by the State System.

What can you do now?

If in Brisbane, attend the Queensland Council of Union’s organised Rally outside Parliament House at 5.30pm on the 19 November to protest against these changes (see attached).
Write to or seek a meeting with your local member of Parliament looking for an explanation as to why these rights are being stripped from you.
If you want to be more involved in the activities/campaign over the Newman Government’s attacks on workers, please respond “add me to the ‘activists’ list”.

These State politicians are interfering directly in the relationship you have, both through your Union and individually, with your employer in respect of your rights to negotiate an Agreement on the conditions which you work under. It is important that they get the message that their actions are perceived as unacceptable by you and others in this State.

I will ensure members are kept up to date with all developments.

Unity is Strength

Owen Doogan
State Secretary
Queensland Branch