Decision puts tomorrow’s tradies at risk

Published: 27 November 2017

The outcome of a federal court decision will hurt the number of new apprentices and put at risk the ability for Queensland to have the number of qualified tradespeople it needs for the future, according to Master Builders Queensland.

The decision to uphold an earlier decision from the Fair Work Commission means that a long-accepted method of paying apprentices in Queensland, understood and accepted by government, regulators and unions, has been abandoned putting at risk the ability for employers to take on much needed new apprentices.

Master Builders CEO, Grant Galvin, said the previous 2016 ruling was a complete surprise, given that in the previous three years the Fair Work Commission (FWC) had approved dozens of enterprise agreements that relied on the Queensland award, and also adjusted the Queensland award during its annual wage case reviews in 2015 and 2016.  

“The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has similarly advised employers to pay under the Queensland award,” Mr Galvin said.

“Prior to the previous FWC ruling, employers had been doing the right thing and acting on advice from the FWO that the Court has now determined was wrong.

“While the decision brings to an end more than 12 months of confusion and uncertainty, it also means apprentices pay rates, particularly for those in their first and second years, have been out by 10-15%.

“Employers will now have to pick up the difference – even though they’ve been advised they were doing the right thing all this time.

“This case has never been about underhanded tactics or employers trying to avoid paying apprentices what they are due. Everyone, including unions, the federal government, state government, FWO and employers believed the Queensland orders were still in existence, with even the Electrical Trade Union’s own Group Training Organisation (GTO) in Queensland continuing to rely on the Queensland award.”

Mr Galvin said the federal court decision reinforces that employers have been merely using the advice from the FWO, highlighting the importance of both governments assisting apprentices and employers as they transition to the new pay scheme. In addition, both governments must provide material assistance to employers caught in this position through no fault of their own.

“Without a transition, there is a real risk that wages increases could result in a big drop off in apprentice intake, send some businesses with large number of apprentices to the wall, and result in many job losses for apprentices.” 

Master Builders has been working hard to get relief for these businesses and remains optimistic that the federal and state governments can facilitate a fair transition.

Background

The Court determined that a 2009 amendment to the Fair Work Act, inserted by the Queensland and federal governments to preserve prior state award wages for some apprentices, has expired.  The 2009 preservation arrangement was included in the wage advice of the Fair Work Ombudsman, which was in turn relied upon by employers and apprentices as correct wages.  However, in August 2016, Commissioner Spencer of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruled that the exemption had ended on 31 December 2013.