VPS enterprise bargaining disparity resolved

By David Donaldson

Wednesday May 1, 2019

Recently passed legislation will give many Victorian public sector staff the ability to bargain on a broader range of matters, including job security.

It resolves a legal issue that meant enterprise bargaining agreements at some organisations were restricted in what they could cover, while others enjoyed broader rights. This was due to a misalignment of how state and federal law applied to different types of organisations.

The Fair Work (Commonwealth Powers) Amendment Bill 2018 passed the state’s upper house on Monday, which will iron out these problems.

Now, more than 130,000 VPS employees, including departmental staff — which includes teachers, transport planners, prison staff and legal aid workers — will be able to negotiate about things like staffing levels, how staff are engaged and the promotion of secure employment.

If included in a future agreement, this would give unions and workers more power to argue regular casual employees should be converted to more secure work, for example.

Many public sector employees already enjoyed this right, which applied to what are known in legalese as constitutional corporations, including some public sector organisations. This legal disparity resulted from a 2015 Federal Court decision, but the issue has been 25 years in the making, ever since then-premier Jeff Kennett referred some of Victoria’s industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth in 1996.

The amendments will not change enterprise agreements that have already been concluded within the public sector.

The bill does not mean these clauses can be imposed on public sector employers. They extend the right to include them, and will only be included where the parties agree.

Sworn police are excluded from the changes.

The Community and Public Sector Union is certainly happy with the result, with Victorian Branch Secretary Karen Batt tweeting: “All VIC workers, public and private, now equal again.”

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