ETU declares QLD employers face $70 million underpayment claims

As 2017 draws to a close, the ETU is putting electrical contracting employers across Australia on notice that it sees halting ‘wage theft’ as a key battleground in the year ahead.  The ETU’s ongoing campaign on apprentice wages has been bolstered by a decision this week by the Federal Court in Queensland that revealed a high incidence of underpayment of electrical apprentices.

The Full Court held that apprentice wages under old Awards had in fact been superseded by the Federal Modern Award system some three years ago, potentially creating, according to the ETU, an underpayment bill in the order of $70 million and reportedly affecting more than 4,000 Queensland apprentices. 

Ultimately, the Full Court concluded that apprentices were covered by Federal Modern Awards, and not the preceding and now non-extant State Awards.

Whilst the decision may not have a direct impact on WA employers, it serves to reinforce the care required in correctly applying pay rates under Enterprise Agreements and to ensuring the rates of pay do not fall beneath those set out in underpinning Awards.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the base rate of pay under an Enterprise Agreement must not be less than the base rate of pay that would be payable to an employee under a Modern Award, if the Modern Award applied to the employee (section 206). Should there be any increases to the base rate of pay under the Modern Award an employer must ensure the base rate of pay under the Enterprise Agreement is not below those contained in the Modern Award.   

[All Trades Queensland Pty Limited v Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (2017) FCAFC 189]

For more information on employers’ obligations and minimum rates of pay, call NECA Legal (WA) Pty Ltd on (08) 6241 6129 or email necalegalwa@ecawa.org.au.