Independent school agreements before Commission

Carol Matthews
Assistant Secretary

The multi enterprise agreements (MEAs) that teacher and support and operational staff members in independent schools voted on last year remain before the Fair Work Commission.

Some procedural failings identified by the Commission required a re-vote in some schools, but the applications for those schools that re-voted are also now back before the Commission pending approval.

In considering the content of the proposed MEAs the Fair Work Commission identified some areas where clarity or amendments to the MEAS were required to ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act or to satisfy the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT).

Approving the undertakings

The Fair Work Commission is able to approve agreements with ‘undertakings’ from employers that address these types of issues. Late last year, and early this year, both the IEU and the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) have been developing and finalising appropriate undertakings. In relation to the MEAs for teachers the undertakings generally address technical concerns arising from the interaction between the MEA provisions and certain provisions of the Fair Work Act and its National Employment Standards.

By way of example, one undertaking seeks to remove any ambiguity as to the operation of sick leave in a teacher’s first year of service, while another simply confirms the existing right of teachers to be represented in relation to disputes.

Better Off Test

The undertakings for support and operational staff also deal with some of these technical issues but largely address issues arising from the application of the BOOT which is designed to ensure that each employee is better off overall as compared to the provisions of the relevant modern award.

The modern award for non-teaching staff can be complex in its operation and application and there were some limited areas where undertakings were necessary to ensure the BOOT was satisfied. One reason for this is because the modern award did not exist when the MEA for support and operational staff was initially developed. The agreed undertakings typically provide for an improved rate of pay, allowance, penalty rate or loading for certain classifications of employee.

Paternity leave not sick leave

One key undertaking that applies to all of the MEAs provides improved paid concurrent parental leave (formerly paternity leave) entitlements. That paid leave of up to two weeks will no longer be debited against a member’s sick leave balance.

Most of the undertakings have been drafted in the form of replacement clauses that will be applied by employers and these can be included in a consolidated document for ease of application of each MEA.

At the time of writing, the final form of those undertakings appears to have been completed and it is hoped that by the time Newsmonth has gone to print the MEAs will have been approved.

Voiced concerns

The AIS proceeded to put the documents out to a vote last year notwithstanding that the Union had voiced concerns about many of these compliance issues. Not all of the issues raised previously by the Union have been addressed and may require further work in the future. However, members can be assured that the final form of each of the MEAs, incorporating the agreed undertakings, represents an even sounder basis for improving and protecting their conditions of work and their workplace rights.

Once again the Union thanks members in independent schools for their support in achieving these outcomes against a difficult industrial climate. The support of reps and chapters during this drawn out process is greatly appreciated.