Interpretation of federal enterprise agreements confined to federal courts, tribunals

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Interpretation of federal enterprise agreements confined to federal courts, tribunals

A Full Federal Court has ruled that state and territory courts and tribunals cannot interpret federal enterprise agreements.

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A Full Federal Court has ruled that state and territory courts and tribunals cannot interpret federal enterprise agreements. This exercise is confined to federal courts and tribunals.

In a legally technical case the Full Federal Court pointed out that there would have to be a federal statutory provision in place allowing for other than federal courts and tribunals to have jurisdiction over instruments that were created under federal law (ie federal enterprise agreements in this case).

Background

The ACT Supreme Court had ruled earlier that it had the power to interpret disputed provisions of the federal certified agreement covering ACT Electricity & Water.

The appellant-employer's basic propositions were that: 

  • a certified agreement has legislative as opposed to contractual force; 
  • the statute (Workplace Relations Act 1996) which created the right also regulated the means by which it may be enforced; and
  • the legislature has not chosen to involve the Supreme Courts of the States or Territories in those means.

Full Federal Court finds no jurisdiction in Supreme Court (ACT)

The Full Federal Court stated:

‘We have referred to the rather special juristic nature of the Award. Even where the duty in question is created by delegated legislation in the form of regulations made under power conferred on the Executive by statute, there is an added difficulty in discerning the existence of a civil sanction for breach. ...

'If the statute does not expressly confer on the Executive a power by regulation to create an action for damages at the suit of any person injured by breach of the substantive provisions of the regulations, it must be difficult to construe the statute and the delegated legislation as impliedly bringing about that result. ...

'the trend towards consensual arrangements has not resulted in any fundamental change to the nature and effect of a certified agreement. The submission for the appellant that a certified agreement is solely a creature of statute having force by virtue of the statute remains correct.'

The Full Federal Court accepted the submission that the Act has created the concept of a certified agreement, has given it statutory force and has also regulated the means by which it may be construed and enforced in accordance. The statute excluded a court of general jurisdiction of a state or territory from the field, except insofar as it is expressly included. It was consequently inconsistent with the ability of such a court to make a binding declaration of right as to the effect of a certified agreement.

See: ACTEW Corporation Ltd v Pangallo [2002] FCAFC 325 (28 October 2002).

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