In great news for workers across Australia, the Federal Labor Government has passed significant changes to the Fair Work Act, following a deal with key Senate crossbencher David Pocock.
These changes aim to bring big benefits to all workers, including those in the post-secondary sector. The most high-profile change is a move towards so-called industry-wide bargaining. What this means is that there will now be scope to ‘rope in’ employers across a sector, so long as it can be demonstrated that these employers occupy the same space, either in terms of work done or geographically.
Given that private college employers have long held to the award as the default wages position, while at the same time pushing back against any attempts to involve them even in single enterprise bargaining, there will now be an opportunity to lift wages and conditions across the private college sector by virtue of this new ability to enforce sector-wide bargaining.
There are several other welcome changes, such as banning pay secrecy clauses, making gender equity an explicit object of the Act, strengthening the right to flexible work, limiting the use of fixed-term contracts, introducing ‘sunset’ clauses on so-called ‘zombie’ agreements (agreements that are well out of date, but still enforceable), and strengthening protections against sexual harassment.
Some edges appear to have been knocked off the Bill on its way through Parliament, something that was necessary to secure the vote of Senator Pocock, whose price included a raising of the definition of small business from 15 to 20 employees, some ability for employers of up to 50 employees to avoid industry bargaining, and an annual review into the welfare payment levels (this last one is welcomed by the IEU).
The changes also don’t do anything about loosening up Australia’s highly restrictive limits around industrial action (among the tightest controls of strikes in the western world), and little to improve access to arbitration for when bargaining reaches an impasse. However, by and large, these are highly significant changes which will benefit workers and help push up wages, which the IEU welcomes.
Your union continues to work hard in the bargaining space, and agreements have been reached at both WSU The College and UoW College. At UWS The College, the Fair Work Commission has approved the agreement struck earlier in the year, guaranteeing pay rises of 4% in 2022, 3.25% in 2023 and 3% in 2024, along with other improvements in the casual marking rate and other areas.
At UoW College (the pathways college for the University of Wollongong), the IEU, along with our sister union the NTEU, has shaken hands over a settlement that will deliver pay rises of 3% in 2022, 3.9% in 2023 and 3% in 2024, with an additional 0.5% on offer in 2024 if inflation is above 3% in that year. Voting will hopefully occur before Christmas.
These settlements represent great outcomes in a sector that was badly affected by the pandemic and has undergone only a slow recovery in recent months. The pay rises ensure that these colleges remain among the highest paying in the sector. If you would like to know how bargaining might benefit workers at your college, contact your union, the IEU.
This is the final Present Tense for 2022, but we’ll be back with more news from the sector in 2023. All of us here at the IEU wish all of our members a wonderful festive season and a relaxing summer.
Kendall Warren Organiser