IRC hands down decision on Office Accommodation



The Industrial Relations Commission (‘Commission’) has handed down it’s decision regarding the interpretation of Clause 24 of the Staff Specialist (State) Award 2019 (‘Award’).

The Commission found that Clause 24 of the Award does not mandate the provision of a dedicated, enclosed office to all staff specialists.

However most importantly, the Commission also found that Clause 24 does encompass the office accommodation to which staff specialists must have access. This office accommodation could extend to an enclosed office, including on an exclusive or shared basis.

Accordingly, although the office accommodation can include the broader area in which a workforce might work, which might itself incorporate workspaces in an open-plan configuration, employers cannot arbitrarily require all staff specialists to work in this environment.

In essence the nature of the office accommodation a staff specialist must be given access will be depend on what is reasonably necessary for the staff specialist to undertake the requirements of their position. That is, it needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis, considering the work performed by the staff specialist and the place at which it is performed.

The Commission highlighted that oral evidence given by the Ministry regarding the description of activity-based working was not reflected in their draft policy. If the Ministry applied the activity-based working “principles” described in the Ministry’s oral evidence given in arbitration, and if the Workspace Accommodation Policy is intended by the Ministry to reflect those principles, then it would not be inconsistent with cl 24 of the Award.

Commissioner Sloan relevantly said, “To ensure that the Workspace Accommodation Policy is implemented in a manner consistent with the position taken by the Ministry in these proceedings, it would be preferable that the document more clearly reflect that position.” and “In particular, it would seem desirable to confirm that no particular option (such as offices dedicated to staff specialists) is necessarily “off the table” when it comes to designing workplaces.”

Accordingly, Commissioner Sloan suggested the parties consult further in respect to the Workspace Accommodation Policy Directive.

ASMOF and the Ministry met yesterday and recommenced consultation in accordance with the Commission's suggestion. It was agreed that ASMOF will put our position forward to the Ministry again by way of further amendments to the draft policy to ensure that it accurately reflects the entitlement of staff specialists and clinical academics.

The draft policy in its current form is vague and open to interpretation which will inevitably led to misapplication and future disputes. Accordingly, ASMOF is seeking a number of amendments which clearly state that if a staff specialist requires a dedicated enclosed office to undertake their duties, they will be provided with such an office.

In the meantime, status quo remains in place meaning that the rescinded policy directive continues to apply to all current redevelopments.