Events of 2015-16 demonstrated that the LGAQ, acting on behalf of councils, could hold its own industrially and achieve benefits for councils and their workforces when operating in a fair, balanced and contemporary industrial relations environment. These same events also showed however that trade unions have an inordinate amount of influence with the Labor State Government in the area of industrial relations and that the State is prepared to support the industrial interests of these parties to the exclusion of those of local government.
Following a comprehensive award modernisation process conducted by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) the LGAQ was successful in its efforts to achieve a single local government industry award. However, the State Government, at the request of unions, suspended all enterprise bargaining activities and legislated to have the earlier decisions of the QIRC on the new Local Government Award reviewed with a view to return to the former premodernised arrangements.
The LGAQ rigorously supported the retention of the single award while opposing the return of dated and irrelevant employment conditions. A number of councils which were already subjected to the award were satisfied with the new arrangements and outlined significant benefits for the councils and their workers. Initial analysis of the workforce census data confirmed that councils under the new award were actually increasing staff numbers while councils subjected to the previous conditions continued to shed staff.
A comprehensive industrial audit of most councils by the LGAQ identified a range of concerns for councils and workers arising out of a plethora of overlapping, competing and dated awards. This contrasted significantly with the audit of those councils operating under the new award which reported very few concerns.
The QIRC ultimately decided in favour of the retention of the single award and the conditions contained therein.
The State Government appealed the QIRC’s decision, with the Minister subsequently directing the Commission to restore pre-modernised conditions and increase the number of prescribed awards for local government. An unsuccessful challenge by the LGAQ in the Supreme Court confirmed the Minister had the power to issue such directions.
The LGAQ will continue to pursue options for a modern, fair and balanced industrial relations system that supports the interests of councils and the sustainability of a local council workforce.
Also in 2015, the LGAQ participated in a taskforce established by the State to review the industrial relations system operating in Queensland. Given the system effectively only incorporates the state public service and the local government sector, employer representatives on the taskforce were vastly outnumbered by trade union representatives and government appointees.
The taskforce presented its report to the government in December, recommending a new Industrial Relations Act with considerable changes which understandably favoured employees and trade unions. The report highlighted a number of objections from the LGAQ and other employer representatives to many of the recommendations. A new Industrial Relations Act is expected to be operating from early 2017.
The LGAQ continued to support councils to lift workforce capability across the sector. In recent years, Queensland’s non-Indigenous councils have had access to more than $15.75 million of Government funding under a fully contestable industry driven brokerage model.
During 2014/15, a $1.6 million program targeting the skill development needs of the 16 Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils achieved an 87 per cent completion rate with 961 personnel in remote indigenous communities gaining a formal qualification or accredited skill set. This exceeded the program target of 200 enrolments with a 50 per cent completion rate.
This program was so successful that the State Government entered into a further $3 million program (2016-2018) with the LGAQ to build capacity across Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils. This program is on track to exceed all program targets.
The LGAQ has been working with a group of 19 councils to develop a consistent set of human resource metrics to provide councils with a benchmarking tool, to help them better manage workforce matters and provide a foundation for strategic workforce planning.
The LGAQ’s annual collection of workforce census data provides the only set of consistent time series data for 2001 to 2016. The data features in the LGAQ’s Skills Workforce and Development Plans and has been used by state and federal government departments as well as the Productivity Commission. These data sets have been formatted to facilitate uploading to Better Councils, Better Communities reporting format, allowing real-time access to data.
The data allowed us to make key representations to the State and Federal governments on legislative and policy change, funds allocation and other government and industry interventions.
As part of its election commitment, the Queensland Government reintroduced the Skilling Queenslanders for Work programs, including the First Start Program which assists with funding incentives of qualifications for new apprentices and trainees in local government. The Queensland Government approached the LGAQ to administer the program which initially proposed funding incentives for 200 positions across local government. However, following some early successes, the LGAQ was ultimately able to deliver funding incentives for 260 positions and funding of $3.25 million across 57 councils.
Negotiations are currently underway to increase the number of participants to 300 for 2016/17.
As part of a strategy of building collaborative relationships between spheres of government for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the LGAQ continued to make representations and create opportunities to build:
The 2015-16 year realised an unprecedented level of direct and informative communication and contact between elected leaders from the three spheres of government on matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.