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CLOSED-shop hiring rules that partly spawned Queensland Rail’s driver shortage chaos remain intact — compromising a key recommendation of the Strachan Inquiry into the rail fail.
Transport Minister Jackie Trad told Parliament this week the Queensland Government was delivering on its pledge to fix QR by implementing all of the inquiry’s recommendations.
Ms Trad pointed to QR opening driver positions to external applicants this month.
But The Courier-Mail can reveal controversial closed-shop internal hiring restrictions were quietly locked in to QR drivers’ new 2017 enterprise agreement, despite the $2.5 million inquiry criticising the rules and a preference to operate with a built-in driver shortage to “provide overtime opportunities for train crew”.
Inquiry head Phillip Strachan named QR’s external hiring restrictions as one of four factors contributing to the train driver shortage and recommended opening recruitment to the public.
He found the rules “increased the burden of recruitment and depleted guard ranks.”
But an in-principle deal with the unions was approved by QR’s board last December — the month before the inquiry delivered its findings — with the final agreement signed by QR’s acting chief executive Neil Scales three days before Cabinet considered the recommendations.
Treasurer Curtis Pitt has previously confirmed the Government became directly involved in negotiating the new enterprise agreement following opposition from QR board members.
The new agreement preserved the internal-first hiring rules, which require driver jobs to first be offered to train guards and then to all QR staff before they can be advertised to outsiders.
Transport Minister Jackie Trad pointed to ads for external applicants.Driver jobs were only opened to the general public this week after QR exhausted all internal recruitment efforts, creating months of delays and a challenge by the Rail Tram & Bus Union.
According to the Strachan report, external recruitment could have begun in mid-January.
Workplace relations lawyer Henry Skene, of Seyfarth Shaw, questioned why the enterprise agreement was agreed to despite everyone being “on notice” it could be impacted by the inquiry’s findings.
“At the time they (QR) are making the agreement it is fairly clear they knew there would be a report in the short term — potentially imminently — that would contain recommendations that would impact the terms of the agreement that was being reached.
“It certainly would have been open to the parties to accept that it would have been appropriate to wait for the report findings so they could consider what if any steps should be taken to address the findings in the report and it appears there’s been a conscious forensic choice not to do that.
“The rationale for the (Strachan) recommendation is based on data that demonstrates an open recruitment process that’s unrestricted gets better candidates with better results.
“These candidates (QR) have chosen to not adopt that clause.
“The key question is why did they act at that time to lock this deal in circumstances where they knew that this report was imminent.
“(The union deal) in practice gives effect to a closed shop environment at QR.”
Opposition Transport spokesman Andrew Powell said it meant QR would be forced to go through the lengthy recruitment process each time they wanted to fill future driver vacancies.
“What it goes to show is that in reality unions are still running the show and this rail fail isn’t going to go away anytime soon,” he said.
Ms Trad yesterday responded to questions about the union deal by stating: “We have commenced full external recruitment as recommended by the Strachan Enquiry.”
QR chief executive Nick Easy did not respond to questions on the union agreement, but said the opening of its recruitment campaign this week “ensures a pipeline of talent into the future.”
“We are committed to implementing all the recommendations of the Strachan Inquiry, including external recruitment.”
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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