Fair and flexible work policies are not 'antiquated'

Industrial relations predicated on adversity alone will not resolve complex matters in the long term. A complex issue that has and will continue to warrant close attention from the Union and the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese is the Job-Share/Flexible Work Arrangement Policy.

The policy and associated thinking (operationalising matters in schools) is best viewed in terms of the workforce composition.

The Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Report (2016-17), has:

overall number of employees – 3145

gender composition – 79.1% female, 20.9% male, and

workforce – 36.3% part time.

The gender report is also instructional in terms of consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace. In response to ‘Who did you consult?’, the report indicates human resource managers, the diversity committee and that the issues are discussed at school staff meetings and at meetings of school and system leaders. The Union who represents the bulk of employees was not consulted.

The Union has recently been contacted by Maitland-Newcastle Diocese human resources in response our request to clarify member concerns as to the operation of what was a policy and now is referred to as a ‘fact sheet’.

We received the following response: “While historically there may be examples where the IEU has sought to influence policy development as though it was a negotiation, I consider this to be an antiquated approach which is unnecessary in a contemporary workplace. Consequently, the Diocese will not be engaging in such a process going forward, and as such the Diocese will not be entering into negotiations with the IEU in developing a flexible work arrangement policy”.

Contemporary workplaces require consultation with employees which is meaningful and via their representatives – the Union. To simply push aside the notion of discussing matters with the Union is to place accumulated wisdom in jeopardy.

Schools require certainty of understandings to best manage a workforce that is female dominated and in excess of 36% part time. To negotiate salaries, workload and various leave arrangements, but to sideline flexible work arrangements, is detrimental to the smooth functioning of schools and consequent education delivered to students.

Legislation and enterprise agreements provide certain entitlements in relation to a request to work part time because of parental or carer’s responsibilities or some other circumstances as defined under the Fair Work Act, including expanded ‘right to request’ provisions introduced in July 2013. These expanded provisions include where the employee:

is a parent (has responsibility for the care) of a child - school age or younger

is a carer (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Cth))

has a disability

is 55 or older

is experiencing violence from a member of the employee’s family, and

provides care/support to a member of their immediate family or household who is experiencing domestic violence.

At present, however these are ‘rights to request’ not absolute rights. An employer must respond in writing within 21 days to a request for flexible arrangement. Employers can only refuse a flexible arrangement where they can demonstrate ‘reasonable business grounds’ for declining the application.

The Fair Work Act provides the basis of understandings. Managing requests and responding consistently with the best interests of employees at the forefront demands consultation. It is not antiquated to have fair workplaces.

The Fair Work Commission has scheduled hearings in Newcastle on the 10 - 11 September. The dispute involves pay and conditions for employees in the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office covered by a Union negotiated agreement. The matter will seek to resolve whether an employer can determine that agreement no longer applies when IEU members remain performing work for the benefit of Catholic Schools Office.
Mark Northam
Assistant Secretary