Core: What does the 'wage freeze' legislation mean for you?

Posted on June 17, 2020

Yesterday the state government introduced legislative amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 2016 to give effect to the Premier's announcement that there would be a 'wage freeze' in the 2020/2021 financial year.

Together continues to remain strongly opposed to the 'wage freeze' policy and also the process being used to implement the policy.

We all know that Queenslanders and the Queensland economy are struggling as a result of the economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic, but we also know that the government needs to stimulate the economy, and not repeat the failed economic austerity strategy that has failed time and again in response to similar economic circumstances of the past. 

The government's 'wage freeze' policy will strip millions of dollars out of the Queensland economy just at the time when the economy needs more assistance not less. Together is opposed to the government's 'wage freeze' as we believe it will damage the economy.

Together is also fundamentally opposed to any use of legislation to override members' existing conditions, conditions which have been negotiated and then implemented as certified agreements. 

No other government in Australia has sought to override existing collective agreements through legislation in response to the current economic circumstances. The use of legislation to override existing conditions fundamentally undermines the confidence workers have in the industrial relations system. A deal is a deal. No employer should have the ability to unilaterally change existing agreements just because of a change to the economic environment. If changes are required they should be negotiated with the workers affected, and this is what is happening with private sector employers and in other public sector jurisdictions.

Together also believes that the proposed amendments are an abuse of parliamentary process. After over two months of negotiations about a possible wage freeze the amendments to the Industrial Relations Act were attached to an unrelated bill relating to long service leave, which meant they could be rushed through Parliament in less than twenty-four hours with little or no scrutiny by the community or the workers affected by the legislation.

The rush also avoided the normal Parliamentary Committee process to review legislation. This should be unacceptable for legislation which directly impacts over 200,000 Queensland workers and their families.

We expect that this legislation will be passed by the Parliament today or tomorrow at the latest.

Together delegates and officials have lobbied over the last few months to ensure that this did not impact on your long awaited wages arbitration under the State Government Departments Certified Agreement 2019.

The good news is that there is no change to the process agreed with you and no change to the fact that if the Award rate of pay goes up, for example as a result of the State Wage Case, so too will your wages.

The State Wage Case and Award related processes are not touched by these amendments.

Further, the wages arbitration process agreed with you will proceed, as this is a process to be determined by the independent Queensland Industrial Relations Commission. This is set out in s 2.10 of your Agreement and is called out in the new section 952D(2) of the Bill before the Parliament.

As a principle, it is clearly not OK that government would seek to legislate to override agreements made with workers, and Together has made this clear. However, it is also important to see that the Award system has not been touched and that your rights to have your case heard in the Industrial Relations Commission continue.

As outlined in my email last week, we will update you further once the Annual Wage Review has been completed next month by the Fair Work Commission as historically that decision has been mirrored in the State Wage Case. Once that occurs, we will be continuing on with our case to seek a wages determination.

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