Catholic employers have opportunity to resolve negotiations; further 'assisted discussion' scheduled by FWC
Employer and employee representatives have agreed to a Fair Work Commission (FWC) offer to reconvene the facilitated discussion on 28 April in a further attempt to resolve negotiations for a replacement collective agreement.
The recent two days of facilitated discussion (6-7 April) conducted by the FWC failed to resolve the matters in dispute.
Employer representatives repeatedly stated that they had no authority from the employing authorities to vary the current employer position on several critical matters in dispute.
An authority from the 22 Catholic education employing authorities to engage meaningfully in the FWC process is clearly necessary if this dispute is to be resolved.
FWC Alternate Bargaining approach
Following invitation from the FWC, the employing authorities and employee representatives agreed in March to participate in an alternate bargaining approach as provided for under the Fair Work Act (FWA).
The FWC process is not arbitration. The FWC process is not a formal conciliation.
Rather, the FWC process is a facilitated discussion.
Each party is invited to share the background to their claim and identify possible resolutions which might be agreed.
What needs to be negotiated to reach a resolution
Employees have a clear understanding that a negotiated settlement requires resolution of the following matters:
- A plan to end the decade long wage discount suffered by Queensland teachers compared to their interstate colleagues.
- Delivering significant intervention in response to employee workload issues.
- The provision of annual leave for term time employees.
- Recognition of experienced teachers and the introduction of Highly Accomplished Teacher (HAT) and Lead Teacher (LT).
- Addressing the wage levels paid to employees in certain Catholic boarding schools.
- Providing professional recognition and support for the vital work undertaken by school counsellors and career counsellors in Catholic schools.
For their part, employer representatives advised (outside of the FWC facilitated discussions) that employing authorities had the view that acceptance of an employer proposal to create a two step Experienced Teacher 5 (ET5) would resolve the dispute.
This is clearly not the case.
How the FWC Alternate Bargaining process works
The onus on the employer and employee representatives in the alternate bargaining process is to identify common interests and look for alternatives on how matters under negotiation might be resolved.
The 22 Catholic education employing authorities therefore needed to give authority to their representatives to engage in this process of exploring possible alternative resolutions and not be constrained by pre-existing employer positions.
However, the employer representatives consistently advised in the discussions over 6-7 April that they did not have that authority.
FWC Alternate Bargaining process reconvenes 28 April
Employer representatives now have over two weeks to obtain the broader authority from the 22 employing authorities necessary to participate properly in the FWC alternate bargaining approach.
In the absence of that broader authority to the employer representatives, the decision makers in the 22 employing authorities need to attend the meeting.
Resolution is possible
There is a potential for the discussions convened by FWC on 28 April to reach a resolution of the matters in dispute.
Employee representatives will be approaching the discussions with the intention of trying to resolve the negotiations.
Whether the 22 employing authorities share that commitment will be clear by whether or not they have provided their representatives with the broad authority to engage in the exploratory discussions inherent in the FWC alternate bargaining approach.
The commitment of the 22 employing authorities to the alternate bargaining process would be even more clear if the 22 decision makers are seated at the table on 28 April. The attendance of all employing authorities is possible under the FWC process.
Anything less than the representatives of the employing authorities having the broad authority to engage in the alternate bargaining process would signal to employees that their employer is not serious about resolving the matters in dispute.
Protected Action bans remain
In the relevant authorised schools, the current bans on whole of staff meetings and the use of the minimum entitlement for Preparation Planning and Correction Time (PPCT) remain in force. The ban on answering emails in less than 30 days also continues. (Co-curricular bans existing in a small number of schools will also continue to be in force.)
The continuation of these protected action bans by members in authorised schools across the state remains critical to reinforce to the employers the level of employee concern regarding the key issues yet to be addressed.
As a sign of good faith, in the lead up to the FWC discussion, no stop work action will be notified prior to 28 April. This situation will be further assessed following the FWC discussions and outcomes on 28 April.
Chapters will hold a meeting to consider a resolution calling upon their relevant Catholic education employing authority to provide their employer representatives with the clear authority to participate in the processes of the FWC alternate bargaining.
Employing authorities have a clear responsibility to act in the best interests of their schools and provide authority to their employer representatives to engage in the FWC alternate bargaining processes on 28 April.