The Queensland State Government has introduced laws which, if passed by State Parliament and approved by the Federal Attorney-General, will fundamentally change the regulation of couriers, lorry owner drivers and those working in the gig economy.

The Industrial Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 contains what will be a new chapter of the Industrial Relations Act dealing with independent couriers. These are individuals (who are not employees) who provide a service transporting goods using a courier vehicle (including a car, van, lorry, truck, bicycle or scooter). The proposed changes introduce a range of measures, rights and obligations previously applicable to employment into this part of the workforce who are lawfully classed as independent contractors.

Proposed changes

Awards - The proposed changes allow the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission to make awards fixing minimum remuneration and working conditions for independent couriers under a class of courier service contracts or different classes of courier service contracts. These awards will be known as Contract Determinations and will operate in much the same way as awards regulating minimum pay and conditions for employees.

Collective bargaining - The changes will commence a regime of collective enterprise bargaining for independent couriers under which groups of couriers can negotiate enterprise bargaining agreements, or Negotiated Agreements, which must pass the no-disadvantage test as compared with the relevant Contract Determination (award). The parties negotiating Negotiated Agreements must do so in good faith, following good faith bargaining obligations based upon those used in the Fair Work Act for employees and employers.

Unfair termination - Continuing the theme of the new regulation of independent couriers mirroring workplace law, the changes will allow the Commission to reinstate and pay compensation (up to 6 months remuneration plus backpay) to independent couriers who the Commission finds were 'unfairly terminated'. This effectively gives Queensland independent contractor couriers and gig economy workers unfair dismissal rights for the first time.

Unfair contracts - Independent couriers will also be able to seek orders from the Commission amending or voiding their courier service contract on the basis it is 'unfair'. Unfair is broadly defined to include the contract being harsh, unconscionable or unfair, against the public interest or providing total remuneration less than that which another person may receive under a Contract Determination or Negotiated Agreement, or industrial instrument as an employee.

What it means for businesses engaging independent contractors
Given that the Federal Government regulates independent contractors and the service contracts under which they perform work (although not nearly to the level of detail proposed by these changes), the new chapter regulating independent couriers will not commence unless, and until, the Federal Attorney-General approves the commencement of the changes. If that occurs, businesses utilising the services of independent contractor couriers, drivers, and deliverers, will need to carefully consider how they respond to these new laws. They will certainly add a level of regulation, administration and potentially collective negotiation which has not been a feature of this part of the workforce in Queensland.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.