Legislation affecting Health workers' pay

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.

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 that 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.

While this is terrible legislation I believe it would have been worse but for the fact that Queensland Health members have been campaigning strongly for the last two months to protect the improvements you won last year in the your workplaces and by lobbying your local politicians over the last couple of weeks.

We know that this legislation will lock in the payment of the increases for members in Queensland Health who have agreements in principle, which were negotiated last year but were not certified. We understand that the previous commitments from Minister Grace and Minister Trad that you would be paid before 30 June will be honoured and that the 2.5% increases due from 2019 and the back pay will be processed this financial year.

The legislation changes the timing of 2020 pay increases for public sector workers with certified agreements such as medical officers and school teachers, it moves the payrises of nurses and midwives in 2021.

We understand that these increases are now deferred rather than lost as would have been the case under a freeze. This means these workers will not receive an increase in the 2020/21 financial year but will receive two 2.5% increases in the 2021/22 financial year.

The current legislation does not automatically impact the timing of the 2.5% increases for the uncertified agreements in Queensland Health – that is the proposed EB10, HPDOCA and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers Agreement, but we expect that the government will seek to change the timing of the proposed increases due in September and October this year. We expect to know that this week.

The legislation will require the majority of parties to an agreement to support the revised certified agreements before they can be certified by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission but the process for how this will occur is not specified by the legislation. We have sought an urgent meeting with Queensland Health to clarify the process moving forward. We hope to have this meeting before the end of the week, but it may not occur until after the legislation has been passed.

The legislation has suspended until 30 September the requirement for all employees to be balloted prior to the certification of collective agreements.  Together remains committed to members making the decision on whether to accept or reject proposed agreements and we will conduct member ballots on any varied agreements even if the employer is currently seeking not to ballot all employees prior to having agreements certified.

The legislation does not reference in any way the $1250 payment that was part of the offer to members last year. We believe that the government remains committed to this part of the offer to Queensland Health members but we do not have this in writing. We do not have any confirmation about whether the government policy is that the payment would be made on the certification of the agreement or when 'in-principle' agreement is reached. We hope to have this issue clarified by Queensland Health later this week.  The pressure applied by Together members has ensured that the government has not attempted to walk away from the commitment to this payment despite the announcement of the 'wage freeze' in April. Well done to you all.

The legislation does not impact on existing collective agreements beyond the timing of the 2.5% increases, and in some cases the length of the agreements. We believe that this is the government's position also in relation to the agreements in-principle for members in Queensland Health. This should mean that the other improvements to members' conditions which you were able to win last year should continue to be part of any certified agreements, however there is provision in the legislation to extend the previous agreements (with updated wage schedules) if replacement collective agreements are not certified prior to September this year. If the previous agreements are extended, the improvements negotiated last year would not be included in the extended agreements. This means that we must certify the agreements before September in order to secure the clinical assistants stream, the MARPI for Medical Physicists, allowances for rural and remote workers and the other benefits you negotiated and won last year.

I am sorry we cannot provide more clarity about where you stand after this legislation is passed. We will be working with Queensland Health as a matter or urgency to bring these matters to finality after the months of uncertainty since the pay freeze announcement. We are very hopeful that this will be this week.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to the better health of Queenslanders and to your colleagues through your union membership.

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