Fair Work Commission dispute leads to improved consultation on school closures and safety

1 March, 2022

Our union’s dispute with Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) over the decision to reopen schools today was subject to a conference in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) earlier this afternoon.

The dispute was filed urgently late last night after BCE determined to reopen schools while significant numbers of state schools remained closed over safety concerns related to the flood emergency.

BCE advised that the reopening of schools was made on the basis of appropriate risk assessments to determine which school sites could safely reopen today, 1 March 2022.

Notably our union was not officially advised of the decision until this morning – after our dispute was filed in the FWC.

Union representatives emphasised the absolute need on such significant safety issues for consultation with staff and workplace health and safety committees – and with our union.

This lack of consultation combined with confusion and late advice on schools reopening meant that many staff attended work today when broader community safety considerations and government advice indicated that they should have remained at home.

Next steps: consultation to occur with our union

Following the dispute hearing it was recommended that further urgent talks take place this afternoon between our union and BCE.

In these talks, our union reiterated the importance of meaningful and ongoing consultation with staff and our union regarding the impact of the flood emergency and how that may affect staff.

We also stated that we expect BCE to clarify a clear process to sensibly manage cases where members remain unable to attend work due to legitimate safety concerns and accessibility difficulties.

BCE has confirmed it will now provide revised communications to principals and employees to clarify arrangements for staff impacted by the ongoing flood emergency.

Key outcomes of the BCE discussions include:

  • The importance of consultation and raising issues at the site level regarding considerations beyond just the school site. Safe school buildings are one thing – and just as important are safe and efficient travel, available public transport and reliable community infrastructure.
  • Natural Disaster Leave will also be available to staff whose workplaces may be open but they cannot attend due to school closures impacting their own children. This is a significant outcome that will help to protect valuable personal/carer’s leave accruals.
  • Natural Disaster Leave will be extended to manage other issues preventing staff from attending the workplace such as significant traffic delays, improbable travel times and the transport gridlock being experienced in some areas.
  • Daily briefings will be held between BCE and our union to better manage any emerging issues or member concerns.

Members should seek and should be provided with opportunity to raise local or area concerns regarding the flood emergency. Any failure to do so should be reported to our union immediately for our advice and intervention.

The state government has announced the widespread reopening of state schools, where safe to do so, from tomorrow 2 March 2022.

Members with any further queries should contact our union for advice.

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Accessing natural disaster leave

Accessing natural disaster leave

Where members have safety concerns in the event of natural disaster or emergency, such as severe weather, they should follow the advice of emergency services and advise their workplace accordingly.