In brief - The Palaszczuk Government has made amendments to Queensland's industrial relations laws improving a number of Queensland Employment Standards, as well as providing greater protections from sexual, sex or gender-based workplace harassment

Following the introduction of the state's proposed Industrial Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 (Bill), Queensland workers are set to receive further protection against sexual, sex or gender-based workplace harassment as well as better access to parental leave and domestic and family violence leave. These amendments reflect the recommendations arising from the recent 5-year review of the laws.

In addition, the Bill proposes to:

  • improve the Queensland Employment Standards;

  • promote gender pay equity in collective bargaining negotiations;

  • clarify rules around representation provided by registered organisations for employers and workers;

  • ensure agents appointed to appear in the Commission act appropriately; and

  • enhance working conditions and protections for independent courier drivers.

Employers in Queensland need to be aware of these reforms and consider the steps they need to take, including reviewing relevant contracts and policies.

Domestic and family violence leave entitlements

In line with the recent federal changes under the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022, Queensland will provide Domestic and Family Violence leave to casuals employed under the Queensland industrial relations jurisdiction.

“Casual workers will now be able to access ten paid days of leave to assist them or their families when escaping domestic violence,” Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said.

Protection against sexual harassment

The Bill proposes amendments to the Act to better 'prevent and eliminate' sexual harassment and sex or gender-based harassment.

The most notable changes include:

  • amendment to section 320 will mean that any finding by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) that an employee's conduct was wholly or partly sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment will result in any dismissal not being harsh, unjust or unreasonable;

  • amendment to section 473 will mean the QIRC will have the power to provide injunctive relief to victims of sexual, sex or gender-based harassment; and 

  • amendment to section 121 will mean that an employer may summarily dismiss an employee due to sexual harassment or sex or gender-based harassment.

In preparation for these amendments, employers in the state jurisdiction should review policies regarding complaints and grievance management, consider providing training in regard to the reforms, update polices, contracts and definitions of serious misconduct to reflect these changes.

Enhanced employment standards

Minister Grace stated "we're committed to providing good, secure jobs as our economy continues to grow and I am proud that Queensland is driving the national industrial relations conversation."

The Bill's minimum Employment Standards will now:

  • align with the federal National Employment Standards (NES) in providing greater flexibility for paid and unpaid parental leave to include adoption, surrogacy or parentage transferred under a cultural recognition order; and

  • provide enhanced birth related and parental leave, allowing individual parents to allocate childcare responsibilities in a way that works best for their family’s circumstances.

Gender pay equity in collective bargaining

Minister Grace believes that "while collective bargaining has delivered stronger wages and working conditions in exchange for flexible and productive workplaces, we still have gender pay inequality."

Amendments to the Bill now require parties to disclose, after the start of negotiations, information relevant to the gender pay gap under the proposed instrument, including:

  • the distribution of the employees by gender;

  • details of the gender pay gap;

  • any major factors identified as contributing to the gender pay gap; 

  • if appropriate, the projected effect of the proposed instrument on the gender pay gap;

  • other information relevant to the gender pay gap reasonably requested by another party to the negotiations; 

  • access to domestic violence leave and greater protection from sexual harassment in the workplace; and

  • other information relevant to the gender pay gap prescribed by regulation.

Representation for employees and employers

As recently recommended by a committee reviewing the legislation, Minister Grace provided no apology when making amendments aimed at thwarting the "increasing number of agents...charging fees and misrepresenting their services."

Justice Peter Davis "also noted instances of legal practitioners attempting to avoid regulatory requirements under the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (IR Act) by providing legal services under the guise of acting for a party as an 'agent' and not as a 'lawyer'."

The proposed amendments will now:

  • provide clarification of the rules around representation for employees and employers under the Act;

  • require agents to be granted leave by the relevant industrial tribunal to represent a person or party, with the exception of employees and officers of registered employee or employer organisations; 

  • provide protections against organisations and individuals who make false and misleading claims about being able to represent the industrial interests of employers and employees under the Act; and 

  • provide clarification that leave may not be granted if the agent is receiving a fee, or if the agent is an officer or employee of, or acting for, an entity (other than an organisation) that purports to represent the industrial interests of employees or employers.

Protections for independent courier drivers

The QIRC can now also set minimum standards for independent courier drivers. 

However, this will not operate until the federal government amends the Independent Contractors Regulation 2016.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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