Two Catholic employers renege on back pay as QCEC struggle with FWC approval of agreements
Toowoomba Catholic Schools Office (TCSO) and Downlands College (Toowoomba) have reneged on the provisions in the new Queensland Catholic Schools’ collective agreements - deciding to not provide back pay to employees who have left their employment before approval of the new agreements.
This announcement comes in addition to news that the Catholic employing authorities are continuing to struggle to get the agreements approved by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) - having ignored sound and consistent advice from our union to them for over more than a year that certain matters would have to be included in the agreements in order for the FWC to approve them.
Shameful employer action on back pay
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the refusal by Toowoomba Catholic Schools Office and Downlands College to back-pay employees who have left their employment before the agreements are approved by the FWC is shameful.
"This position is contrary not only to the provisions in the agreement but also what has historically occurred under previous agreements with exactly the same provisions.
“These employers are adopting a legalistic approach indicating they are only required to back-pay employees who are employed at the time the agreement is approved by the FWC,” Mr Burke said.
“This approach by these two employers is confused, unfair, unjust and fails to respect the good work of their employees who were effective and engaged workers in the relevant period in 2019,” Mr Burke said.
Renege contrary to provisions and historical actions
The agreement waiting for approval by the FWC provides for percentage wage increases for teaching staff from the first full pay period on or after 1 July 2019 and for non-teaching staff from the first full pay period on or after 1 May 2019.
The agreement awaiting approval, (and the current agreement being replaced) both state that:
“Where this Collective Enterprise Agreement specifies an earlier operative date in relation to a particular provision, then that provision shall operate from that date for all applicable employees employed at that earlier date.” (Clause1.2.3)
Catholic employers have consistently all staff who were employed at the time the pay increase came into force irrespective of whether they were in the employer’s employ at the time of the agreement approval.
The two employers who have adopted the position have let down all employees and called into question their core values.
Catholic employers struggle with FWC approval process
The employer proposed replacement agreement was successfully balloted over two months ago.
Under the requirements of the Fair Work Act, the employer must make the application to the FWC for approval of the agreement.
The Catholic employers made the application deadline of 14 days with a day to spare.
The FWC process can involve uncertain timeframes; however, employer decisions made in the negotiations have clearly contributed to delays in the approval process.
The employers repeatedly rejected many of our recommendations and advice during the negotiations to ensure the FWC did not need to raise many of the issues it has now raised.
These delays could have been avoided – a significant number of the technical matters now identified by the FWC had previously been raised with the employers by our union.
The FWC identified thirty-two issues for the employers to respond to in terms of the agreements submitted for approval.
Another eight concerns were identified in relation to the employer forms that are required to be submitted with the agreements.
The employers requested a two-week extension beyond the usual seven days to submit a range of explanations and undertakings to the FWC.
These submissions have now been made; however, there remain significant problems with their submissions.
Employers seek changes to balloted agreement
Most notably, Catholic employers have sought to amend elements of the agreement after it was balloted arguing that they have done so to correct “an administrative error”.
A provision for an $18 uniform allowance that has been in the previous agreement, and in the document approved by employees in the recent ballot, has been changed by employers to a $5 allowance because the $18 was “an administrative error”!
Much of the delays in the process of approval are a result of employer action; employers ignored matters we raised with them over a period of 18 months and now these very same matters mean the agreements remain in limbo pending further FWC review.
Our union has made submissions as part of that FWC review and will clearly continue to represent your interests in the process.
Member action needed
Members need to convene Chapter Meetings to discuss these latest developments and endorse resolutions calling on the employers to immediately reverse their position and make back-payments to all staff who were in employment from 1 May 2019 (school officers/ services staff) and 1 July 2019 (teachers).
Members should also ensure our collective voice remains strong by talking about this matter with their colleagues and asking their non-member colleagues to join our union.
There has never been a more important time to join our union and these developments are an important reminder of why strong and active Chapters are needed all the time, not just during collective bargaining for a new agreement.