Collective bargaining

The Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) (the Act) promotes collective bargaining between employees (and their representative unions) and employers, as the primary means by which wages and employment conditions are decided.

An employee’s modern employment conditions can be found in the Queensland Employment Standards (QES), modern awards and bargaining instruments. The QES are a set of minimum employment conditions for all employees.

Modern awards [link to fact sheet] set out employment conditions that apply to employees in specific industries or occupations (e.g. ambulance officers) and/or sectors, (e.g. white collar public sector workers).

A bargaining instrument allows employers and employees (and their unions) to negotiate employment conditions, beyond those contained in the QES and the relevant modern award, which reflect the circumstances of individual workplaces.

What is a bargaining instrument?

A bargaining instrument is a written agreement (a certified agreement or a bargaining award) about industrial matters relating to an employer and a group of or all employees of the employer.

An instrument may be made between an employer and either, one or more unions entitled to represent the employees in question, or, in certain circumstances, between an employer and the employees of the employer.

A ‘bargaining award’ is an award made under Chapter 4, Part 5 of the Act, and is not a ‘modern award’ under Chapter 3 of the Act.

What is good faith bargaining?

In negotiating a bargaining instrument, the parties are required to negotiate in good faith.  This includes such things as:

  • attending and participating in bargaining meetings
  • disclosing relevant information in a timely way
  • genuinely considering proposals made by other parties
  • not engaging in capricious or unfair conduct that undermines freedom of association or the collective bargaining process.

What is protected industrial action?

A negotiating party for a proposed bargaining instrument has a right to take industrial action in support of its claims.

How can the QIRC assist?

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) can help the parties reach agreement in difficult negotiations.  To achieve this the QIRC may give advice or make recommendations to the parties about the conduct of negotiations.

If the parties have been negotiating and have tried to reduce the scope of the matters at issue, and the QIRC does not consider there is a reasonable likelihood of further negotiations resulting in the parties reaching agreement within a reasonable period, the QIRC may refer the matter to arbitration as a last resort.

What is required to get an agreement approved?

The QIRC must be satisfied that a valid majority of the relevant employees employed at the time have been consulted and approved the proposed bargaining instrument.

The QIRC must be satisfied that the proposed bargaining instrument does not disadvantage the employees in relation to their modern employment conditions.  The QIRC must also refuse to certify an instrument if it considers the proposed instrument contains a discriminatory provision.

The QIRC must ensure the agreement provides for equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value in relation to the employees to be covered by the agreement.

Further information

For specific information contact your employer’s Human Resources or Industrial Relations area or your union.

Queensland Industrial Relations Framework

A comprehensive review of Queensland’s industrial relations laws resulted in the government adopting all 68 of the review’s recommendations which will promote a fair and balanced industrial relations framework. A significant majority of the recommendations will be given effect though the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (the Act). The Act received assent on 9 December 2016 following its successful passage through the Queensland Parliament on 30 November 2016. Most provisions of the Act commenced on 1 March 2017.

The Act provides a framework for the conduct of industrial relations within the State’s industrial relations jurisdiction that is fair and balanced and supports the delivery of high-quality services, economic prosperity and social justice for Queenslanders. The defining features of the State industrial relations system are:

  1. a set of minimum employment conditions and standards
  2. collective bargaining as a cornerstone for setting wages and conditions including good faith bargaining and other consultation
  3. requirements to promote consultation between employers and employees
  4. a set of individual rights to fair treatment
  5. effective, transparent and accountable governance and reporting obligations for all registered industrial organisations and employer associations
  6. the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) as a strong and effective independent umpire.

The Act covers employers and employees to whom the federal Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) does not apply. Generally this means employers and employees of the Queensland government and local governments are covered by the Queensland Act.

Last updated 01 April 2020