Hearing dates in the AEU’s case against the conduct of Kangan Batman Institute have been postponed until later in the year due to coronavirus restrictions.
The union is supporting more than 30 BKI members who have taken grievances to a Workload Dispute Panel, in some cases involving several breaches of the agreement. As conciliation hearings have not resolved these matters, the Fair Work Commission has been conducting hearings to consider and arbitrate on the dispute. The first hearing was held early in Term 1, with further hearings due to commence just as COVID-19 came into play.
Some members have asked why the BKI hearing is on hold while more recent cases of employer conduct, including the Independent Education Union’s case against Ivanhoe Grammar, have been heard by Fair Work. Coronavirus-related cases, especially those involving job losses, are currently being prioritised. In addition, the IEU case was conducted via a paper submission only, whereas the BKI case involves a large bank of evidence that could not be investigated without having witnesses on the stand. There was no way the FWC could guarantee social distancing for witnesses present.
There have been a number of other compromises for AEU industrial officers preparing for hearings. It has been difficult to meet with members and witnesses prior to a hearing in order to prepare them – something best done face-to-face, given providing evidence in a hearing is a stressful experience at the best of times.