Council workers out of national IR system

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Council workers out of national IR system

Unions are claiming victory in their campaign to exclude local government workers from the national IR system, with a Federal Court decision confirming a Qld council is not a ‘constitutional corporation’.

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Unions are claiming victory in their campaign to exclude local government workers from the national IR system, with a Federal Court decision confirming a Qld council is not a ‘constitutional corporation’.

The case brought by the AWU involved the Etheridge Shire Council of Queensland, in the Gulf Savannah region west of Cairns, and a WorkChoices-style workplace agreement it sought to cover its workforce in 2006.

Handed down yesterday, Justice Jeffrey Spender found Etheridge Council was not an ‘employer’ under the Federal Workplace Relations Act because it is not a constitutional corporation.

Importantly, Spender said it is ‘inconceivable that the framers of the Constitution intended that the Commonwealth should have powers to regulate the activities, functions, relationships and the business of the Council, which is a body politic of State Government’.

He also expressed the view that if a local government was to be treated as a trading corporation, the Commonwealth would have powers over it that would ‘annihilate any concept in the Constitution of a Federal balance' and would permit the Commonwealth to ‘nullify’ the right of the State to govern in its local government areas.

No WorkChoices 'yoke'

AWU national president Bill Ludwig said the decision takes the WorkChoices ‘yoke’ off the shoulders of local government workers.

‘This decision clearly means the Federal Government can't make Federal workplace laws to cover local government workers,’ he said.

‘Our union always thought that the idea that local councils could be defined as corporations - and so rope in all local government workers under the yoke of the hated WorkChoices laws - was questionable.'

All councils out, except Victoria

Ludwig said legal advice obtained by the union means no local council in Australia, except for possibly Victoria which has ceded its IR powers to the Commonwealth, can invoke WorkChoices-style laws against their workforce.

Australian Workers' Union of Employees, Queensland v Etheridge Shire Council [2008] FCA 1268 (20 August 2008)


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