Employers have refused to surrender to the rulings of the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which has held on two prior occasions that All Trades Queensland’s 2015 employee agreement should comply with higher-paying federal awards, as opposed to state awards. In an attempt to quash this ruling, employers argued that their employees were “unmodernised award covered employees” and therefore, immune to the modern federal awards.
Challenging the decision of the FWC in the Federal Court, Master Builders Queensland, the Apprentice Employment Network and the Housing Industry Association claimed that the FWC erred in finding that prior state awards used by All Trades as the grounds upon which its employees wages were determined, ceased operation in January 2014.
Rejecting the appeal, and affirming the previous decisions of the FWC, the Federal Court, on 27 November 2017, ruled that the old state award, which governed the pay of apprentices throughout Queensland, had in fact, been overruled three years ago. By way of consequence, over 4,000 employees were paid $9 per hour of labour, giving rise to an enormous pool of apprentices who, potentially, have been underpaid since 2014.
In light of the ruling, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has declared its new venture – to pursue millions in back pay for its thousands of underpaid employees. Consistent with a 2015 finding, the federal award entitles employees $12.66 an hour, as opposed to $8.75 an hour that they received per the State award.
Invoking awareness amongst employees throughout the state, the ruling will likely prompt apprentices – spanning from butchers to electricians – to bring forward claims contesting that federal awards should in fact, dictate their wages.
From the employer’s perspective, this case unveils a truth: where an employer underpays an employee, either through applying the incorrect award, a miscalculation, or another means, they will be held accountable and ultimately, rendered liable for backpay.