Significant Win For Queensland Apprentices

Hall Payne Lawyers along with the CEPU, CFMEU, and the AMWU have had a significant victory on behalf of Queensland apprentices after the Federal Court handed down a ruling that potentially affects thousands of apprentices who have been paid wages of less than $9 an hour under old state-based awards.

This win will bring Queensland apprentices wages and conditions in line with those from other states, as many apprentices in Queensland had previously been the lowest paid in the country.

In 2016 All Trades Queensland (ATQ) a made an application for the approval of a replacement enterprise agreement. In making the application, ATQ argued that in applying the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), the agreement should be measured against old state-based industrial instruments. Those instruments had, in many respects, inferior pay and conditions for apprentice employees when compared to the applicable modern awards.

Our union client’s opposed the approval application on the basis that the proposed agreement could not pass the BOOT because it should be measured against the relevant modern awards.

Commissioner Paula Spencer at first instance determined that that various State awards and orders previously thought to apply to apprentices and trainees in Queensland have terminated and could no longer be used and that the modern awards should be used for the BOOT. ATQ appealed to the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission.

In August 2016, the Fair Work Commission upheld Commissioner Spencer’s ruling and found that ATQ’s apprentice agreement should be measured against the modern award. This meant, for example, that the applicable hourly rate of a first year apprentice who had completed year 12 was $12.66 an hour, not old state-based rate of $8.75 an hour.

In an effort to continue to pay apprentices wages less than in the modern awards ATQ joined with other associated employer groups (The Housing Industry Association, and Master Builders Queensland) and applied to the Federal Court in Brisbane to reverse the decisions of the Fair Work Commission. The applicants sought an urgent hearing before the Full Court of the Federal Court.

The CEPU, CFMEU, and the AMWU then turned to Hall Payne Lawyers for assistance, and to develop a winning legal strategy to oppose the challenged to the Commission’s decisions. Hall Payne Lawyers argued that the Commission’s interpretation of the law was correct, that the legislation had always envisaged moving all employees across to the modern awards and that the sunset clause meant that the provisions that kept apprentices on the old state-based conditions had since expired, meaning those instruments no longer applied.

The Federal Court agreed with our arguments and ruled today that the primary analysis provided by the Commissioner and the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission was correct. The ruling today by the Federal Court potentially affects apprentices across all disciplines in Queensland including electrical, carpentry plumbing, mechanical and hair dressing.

Joe Kennedy, Principal of Hall Payne Lawyers, said “This decision is the culmination of tireless efforts on behalf of our union clients to bring the pay and conditions of apprentices in Queensland up to the level of the rest of the country. The Full Court accepted each of our arguments and found our clients’ interpretation of the legislative positions to be correct.

“The employers have taken every option open to them to try and avoid being subject to the modern awards, these attempts have been rejected at each stage and our clients’ position has been consistently vindicated.”

Electrical Trades Union Queensland apprentice officer Scott Reichman said “For years, apprentices in Queensland have been paid less than those in every other state because of this kind of underhanded behaviour.”

“Today’s ruling means that we can seek wage justice for these young people.”