The Queensland Government recently introduced the Industrial Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 (Bill) into Parliament. In response to the recommendations of an independent five-year review into the IR Act, the Bill proposes various amendments to the Industrial Relations Act (IR Act) which may impact some employers.
The changes to Queensland’s industrial laws proposed in the Bill include:
- strengthened protections for employees subject to workplace sexual harassment and sex and gender-based harassment by providing conciliation, arbitration, and injunctive powers to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC);
- the introduction of minimum entitlements and conditions for independent courier drivers;
- improvements to entitlements under the Queensland Employment Standards including parental and adoption leave;
- enhancing effective representation of employers and employees by organisations registered under the IR Act; and
- enhanced gender pay equity remuneration in bargaining provisions.
Sexual harassment protections
The Bill targets amendments to Queensland’s industrial laws to strengthen protections and expand access to remedies for employees subject to workplace sexual harassment and sex and gender-based harassment. The objective of the amendments is to deter and eliminate sexual harassment and sex or gender-based discriminatory conduct in Queensland workplaces.
Key amendments proposed by the Bill include the following sections:
- What an employer must do to include sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment as a type of misconduct for the purposes of summary dismissal;
- Industrial matters to be extended to include sexual harassment and sex or gender-based harassment in the definition of ‘industrial matter’;
- New definitions for ‘sexual harassment’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘sex or gender-based harassment’ which align with those definitions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (QLD);
- Matters to be considered in deciding an application to include a new subsection that provides the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) with the ability to decide that a dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable if the dismissed employee engaged in sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment;
- Power to grant injunctions to include a provision that permits the QIRC to grant an injunction that it considers appropriate to prevent or settle an industrial dispute involving allegations of sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment; and
- Legal Representation to include a new subsection that permits the QIRC to grant leave for legal representation for industrial matters that include allegations of sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment when a matter is before the Commission.
Summary Of Other Amendments
Introduction of minimum entitlements and conditions for independent courier drivers
The Bill includes a new chapter to empower the QIRC to, on application or its own initiative, determine the minimum remuneration and working conditions for independent couriers.
The proposed Chapter 10A provides for a definition of independent couriers as it captures all drivers of vehicles engaged in transporting goods and are acting as individuals, or members of a partnership, or a company where the individual driving the vehicle is an executive officer of the company or a member of an executive officer’s family.
Improvements to Queensland’s employment standards
By amending the IR Act and introducing Chapter 18, part 6, the Bill will also align Queensland’s Employment Standards (QES) with prevailing federal standards in the areas of parental leave and personal leave. This includes the provision of evidence for taking leave, flexibility in how unpaid parental leave is taken including in cases of still birth, increasing the age limit for a child from 5 to 16 years of age for the purposes of adoption-related leave or cultural parent leave, and removing language that implies gendered divisions in parental care.
Enhancing the effective representation of employers and employees by organisations registered under the IR Act
The Bill also amends some terminology used in the IR Act to provide greater clarity about the rights and responsibilities of employee and employer organisations registered under the IR Act to represent employees and employers.
Under the proposed changes to the Act, employees and employers remain free to choose whether or not to become a member of an employee or employer organisation, including ineligible or unregulated entities. Nevertheless, it is made clear that ineligible entities cannot lawfully represent their members’ industrial interests under the IR Act and civil penalties can be ordered against any entity which misrepresents its registration status or ability to lawfully act on behalf of a person’s industrial interests under the IR Act.
Enhancing equal remuneration in collective bargaining provisions
The Bill introduces a new mechanism to further enshrine equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value in collective bargaining which is a unique feature in Australia’s industrial relations jurisdictions. These changes are set out in Clauses 29-65 of the Bill and include the following:
- Section 201 of the IR Act to be amended to clarify that a proposed agreement or bargaining instrument must include information setting out how equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value will be achieved in practice;
- Section 290 of the IR Act to be amended (meaning of ‘engages in industrial activity’) to replace the term ‘industrial association’ with ‘industrial organisation’; and
- Further amendments to section 290 of the IR Act to be amended to insert a new subsection (c) which highlights when a person engages in ‘industrial activity’.
What does this mean for Employers ?
The proposed changes to the IR Act, if passed, will impact employees and employers across a range of areas. Most notably, employers will be able to summarily dismiss employees who engage in sexually or sex or gender-based harassing conduct, and sexual harassment matters will be able to be litigated in the QIRC.
Clifford Gouldson Lawyers have extensive experience in assisting and advising businesses and employers on various sexual harassment matters, including workplace investigations involving allegations of sexual harassment and representing employers in industrial disputes, as well as providing expert and tailored legal advice to ensure that employers meet their obligations.
Please contact Danny Clifford and the Workplace Law team to ensure that you have the right workplace policies in place to protect your business and your staff.