ECC oral submission on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill

28 May 2018

The ECC Chief Executive Officer, Peter Reynolds, delivered an oral submission on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill to the Education and Workforce Select Committee on 23 May.

The oral submission was an opportunity to talk to the members of the Select Committee and enable them the chance to ask additional questions. The Employment Relations Amendment Bill aims to restore some minimum standards and protections for employees, and to implement a number of changes to promote and strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace. The proposed changes aim to provide more fairness in the workplace between employees and employers.

The ECC supports employment relations provisions and good workplace relationships and conditions. However, there are some elements of the Bill that could unduly impact on childcare centres and we made a written submission. Peter was invited to speak to the written submission and took 15 minutes to brief the Committee and answer some questions.

He told the Committee members that some of the provisions of the Bill appear to compel businesses to collectively bargain. He explained there is a Kindergarten collective and the early childhood education (ECE) collective. He explained that 55 percent of the ECE sector is made up of childcare centres and these are a combination of privately-owned and community-owned small businesses. Less than 70 centres are part of the ECE collective agreement. The concern is that the vast majority of services could not afford to pay the requirements of the collective.

The ECC is also concerned at the provision in the Bill that would enable union officials to drop in to workplaces unannounced, and therefore access childcare centres. The concern here is this is a direct conflict with childcare centre requirements to meet the provision of the Vulnerable Children’s Act, under which all visitors must sign in and be accompanied by a staff member. The ECC argued that the provision under the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, enabling unions unfettered access to centres, may put a centre licence at risk under other regulatory requirements.

What’s more, Peter explained to the Committee that the Bill enables the union to recruit two staff, and then that business/employer is required to collectively bargain. The ECC believes this is essentially a breach of human rights, and may lead to staff departures if they are given no choices or essentially forced into a unionised agreement.

The ECC also considered the impact of the Bill on working parents using ECE services. Under the collective agreements, if you don’t opt out, hours of work must be 9-5pm, and a working parent covered by the collective would then need to negotiate with their employer and union if they wanted flexibility to pick up children from ECE at different times. Peter explained that licensed childcare centres are heavily regulated and unable to claim government subsidies for more than 6-hours per day. For parents, caught by the provisions of the Bill, they may have no choice but to have children in ECE more than 6-hours, and therefore pay additional fees.

Another provision in the Bill, would compel employers to provide personal information to a union about every employee. However, some centres utilise parents to compliment or enhance their adult:child ratios. We wondered if their details would also be required to be passed to a union under this Bill? And if so, that is a privacy concern?

The Bill also imposes the requirement for breaks to be taken at fixed times. Peter told the Committee that childcare centres operate breaks on staggered break routines and it is not possible to have fixed breaks for everyone at the same time. This is because the regulatory requirement for adult:child ratios, and the way the subsidy funding works, means that centre staffing is self-limited. The centre based sector employs a staggered breaks and we would want that to continue. Peter also asked about how the Bill would be applied to home-based services? Where for example, one educator is caring for up to 4 children and cannot therefore walk away from responsibilities to take a rest break as the Bill prescribes.

The ECC supports the current 90-day trial provision but wonders if there has been a cost-benefit analysis done of the proposed changes under the Bill? Peter told the Committee that the 20-staff threshold is too low and should be raised to 50. The ECC also raises caution over the reinstatement provision in the Bill. That’s because it is dependent on relationships between people. Where relationships have irrevocably broken down, forcing an employer to reinstate a disaffected employee can lead to further disruption in the workplace. Peter told the Committee the current provision that sets out that reinstatement as one of a number of options - works well, rather than that provision being prioritised over other options.

The Committee members then asked questions. National MP, Nicola Willis, asked about more detail on how the meal break provisions might disrupt children in a centre? Peter explained that services already running tight adult:child ratios cannot absorb this requirement. For example in some rural settings with small centres and small staff numbers, how would you manage fixed break times and still stick to the other regulatory requirements for supervision and ratios for centres? Peter said breaks need to be flexible so that centres can meet their other regulatory requirements. Again, Peter asked how would this work for home-based services?

Labour MP, Jan Tinetti, asked how does this legislation not support ECE, as the legislation supports good practices if you are a good employer. Peter answered that this is what the current legislation supports now. But he said he got the impression in the Bill some things would be different and there needs to be clarify about whether some of the situations discussed would be rigid and fixed, or flexible.

The Education and Workforce Select Committee is continuing to consider submissions on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill. The ECC will keep our members updated about the progress and any changes made to the provisions as the Bill moves through the stages in the House.

The Education and Workforce Select Committee looks at business related to education, training, employment, immigration, industrial relations, health and safety, and accident compensation. The committee is currently chaired by National MP, Parmjeet Parmar. To find out more about the members of the Education and Workforce Select Committee, go here:

To find out more about the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, go here:

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