Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Latest News

The Full Bench has unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Industrial Magistrates Court (IMC) exercising jurisdiction under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act). It found that it had no power to review a decision of the IMC exercising such jurisdiction.  

The appellant’s claims before the IMC sought to enforce entitlements alleged to arise from an award issued under the FW Act and entitlements under the National Employment Standards. He also suggested that one of the matters he pursued related to an employer-employee agreement and therefore fell under the Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA).

The appellant claimed that the Industrial Magistrate denied him a fair hearing.

Although the appellant recognised that the Full Bench had no jurisdiction to deal with the substance of his claim under the FW Act, he argued that the Full Bench has the characteristics of a court and therefore can deal with his appeal as it relates to procedural fairness.

The Full Bench found that it does not have the power to review a decision of the IMC exercising jurisdiction under the FW Act, whether for the purpose of examining whether procedural fairness applied or for any other purpose.

The appeal was dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

Costs

The respondent sought costs on the basis that the appeal was frivolously and vexatiously instituted when the Full Bench had no jurisdiction to deal with it.

The respondent said it had alerted the appellant to the Full Bench’s lack of jurisdiction, pointed him to the Federal Court of Australia and invited him to discontinue the proceedings.

The appellant submitted there was no option for him to withdraw the application and there was no way out without a Full Bench decision.

The Full Bench found that there was nothing to prevent the appellant from seeking leave of the Full Bench to discontinue the hearing or withdraw the appeal. It noted that it is not in the interest of the parties, the Commission, or the public for matters to proceed to their conclusion merely because it had been commenced.

However, the Full Bench found that there was no suggestion that the appeal was instituted frivolously or vexatiously by the appellant. It considered the difficulty of lay persons to navigate through a less than straightforward appeal process, from a State court to a Commonwealth one.

The application for costs was dismissed.

The decision can be read here.

The Industrial Magistrate has dismissed a claim for pay in lieu of notice and other entitlements under the Electorate Officers Award 1986 (WA) (Award) and the Electorate and Research Employees CSA General Agreement 2019 (WA) (Agreement) after finding that, on the proper construction, cl 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Award had no operation to the claimant’s employment.

The claimant, an Electorate Officer, alleged that she was ‘constructively dismissed’ when she resigned from her employment in December 2019. She alleged that upon the expiration of her contract, she was entitled to benefits under the Award and the Agreement.

The claimant argued that the irretrievable break down of her working relationship with a Member of Legislative Council is a circumstance covered by cl 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Award because her ‘constructive dismissal’ occurred through no fault of her own and her employment was ‘deemed’ to have expired.

The respondent denied the claim and argued that cl 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Award had no operation to the claimant’s employment. The respondent lodged an application seeking summary dismissal on the ground that the claim had no real prospect of success.

The respondent also sought costs of the proceedings on the ground that the claim was frivolously or vexatiously instituted.

Consideration

Industrial Magistrate Scaddan noted that cl 8(2) of the Award concerns the expiration of an employee’s contract of employment, having regard to the unique position held by Members of Parliament.

Scaddan IM noted that there are four instances where an employee’s contract will be deemed to have terminated through no fault of the employee’s. Three instances relate to the office held by the Member, with the fourth instance providing for ‘other [unspecified] circumstances as agreed between the employer and the Union’: cl 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Award.

Scaddan IM found that, having regard to the ordinary meaning of the words, unless there is an agreement between the respondent (as employer) and the Civil Services Association of WA Inc. (as Union) as to what ‘other circumstance’ applies, cl 8(2)(b)(iv) has no operation relevant to an employee’s termination.

Scaddan IM found that as the claim for benefits relied upon the application of cl 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Award, and no agreement existed between the respondent and the Union regarding the deemed expiration of the claimant’s employment, the claim ought to be dismissed.

Her Honour also granted the respondent’s applicant for summary judgment but dismissed the respondent’s claim for costs. Scaddan IM found that while the claim was arguably misguided and misconceived, it does not of itself lead to a conclusion that it was frivolously or vexatiously instituted.

The decision can be read here.

On 14 April 2020, the Commission issued a General Order under s 50 Industrial Relations Act 1979 (WA) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed state system employees to take unpaid pandemic leave, annual leave on half pay and annual leave in advance. The General Order can be read here.

This General Order provided flexible leave arrangements during the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The General Order was due to expire on the 31 July 2020 and was subject to review either at the Commission’s initiatives or an application.

The Commission has issued an order extending the operation of the General Order setting out “Provisions Relating to the COVID-19 Pandemic” to 31 March 2021.

The Commission in Court Session undertook a review of the General Order and heard from the Minister, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and UnionsWA. It was agreed that, in the current circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic and its effects on businesses and employment, and the continuing uncertainty it has generated, the operation of the General Order should continue until 31 March 2021.

The Commission issued the order on 29 July 2020.

The order can be read here.

The Commission has declared that the correct interpretation of the dispute resolution provisions set out in the Department of Justice Prison Officers’ Industrial Agreement 2018 (Agreement) is that they are limited to disputes about the meaning and effect of the Agreement or the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act 1993 (WA).

The applicant, the Western Australian Prison Officers’ Union of Workers, and the respondent, the Minister for Corrective Services, are parties to the Agreement.

The applicant contended that the dispute resolution provisions of the Agreement, including the key provision of cl 176.2, should be constructed broadly to apply to all questions or disputes arising between the parties.

The respondent argued that the provisions are limited to those disputes about the meaning and effect of the Agreement or the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act 1993 (WA).

Senior Commission Kenner found that on a strict interpretative basis, even applying a generous approach, taking the language used in cl 176, he preferred the position adopted in the respondent’s submissions.

Kenner SC found, in its ordinary and natural meaning, the words in cl 176.2 that “Any question or dispute that arises between the parties regarding the meaning and effect of this Agreement… will be resolved” are narrow in scope and only seek to confine matters that are the subject of formal dispute resolution processes.

The Commission has issued a declaration to this effect.

The decision can be read here.

The Commission has dismissed a claim of unfair dismissal by a Deputy Principal for serious misconduct resulting from historical sexual assault allegations made against him by a former student.

Senior Commissioner Kenner also rejected an application to suppress the identity of the applicant, on the basis that embarrassment and possible reputational damage did not outweigh the public interest in the open justice principle applying.

Facts

In February 2019, allegations were made that the applicant sexually assaulted a former student on the last night of a school trip to Indonesia in 1997, where it was alleged that the applicant shared a hotel room with the student.

An investigation into the allegations commenced shortly after, with the Final Investigation Report completed in August 2019.

The Report summarised the procedure adopted, the allegations, the documents provided, several interviews with witnesses and included the referral to a psychologist for an expert opinion.

The Report concluded that on the balance of probabilities, it was reasonable to conclude that the allegations against the applicant were substantiated. The recommended outcome was a finding of serious misconduct and the termination of the applicant’s employment.

The applicant was summarily dismissed for misconduct on 20 August 2019.

Contentions

The applicant proclaimed his innocence and denied the allegations against him. He also maintained that his dismissal was unfair on grounds that the respondent’s investigation of the allegations were fatally flawed, the investigators had insufficient expertise, the evidence was contaminated, he could not properly respond to the allegations, and that the expert psychologist report did not substantiate the allegations.

The respondent contended that based on the totality of the evidence, the investigators could conclude on the balance of probabilities that the applicant’s misconduct had been established.

The respondent also argued that it conducted as thorough an investigation as it could, given that the conduct took place outside of Australia and the police could not investigate. It submitted that the applicant was given a fair go in the investigation and that the respondent followed relevant policies.

Conclusions

Kenner SC noted that in cases of serious misconduct, the civil standard of proof still applies, but consistent with the principles in Briginshaw v Bringinshaw (1938) 60 CLR 336, a higher level of satisfaction of proof is required in this case.

Kenner SC also determined that the issue to decide was not whether the applicant was guilty of the alleged conduct in a criminal liability sense, rather, whether the respondent, after as proper and as thorough an inquiry as was necessary in the circumstances, had an honest and genuine belief, based on reasonable grounds, that the misconduct occurred.

Kenner SC considered the evidence before him from multiple witnesses, statements, and letters. He also considered several criticisms of the respondent’s investigation process advanced by the applicant.

Kenner SC found that he was satisfied that the investigators had regard to the appropriate principles in approaching the workplace investigation and noted that standard and approach to the enquiry would be different to that of a criminal investigation.

He determined that, based on the material, it was open for the respondent, after a sufficient inquiry, to hold an honest and genuine belief, based on reasonable grounds, that the misconduct took place.

The application was dismissed.

The decision can be read here.

Contact Us

Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission
17th Floor
111 St Georges Terrace
PERTH WA 6000

Phone : (08) 9420 4444
Facsimile : (08) 9420 4500
Free Call : 1800 624 263

Free Fax :1800 804 987

Email : Registry

 

You are here: Home > News