Unions are bracing for a flood of employers to comply with the lead set by airline Qantas and stevedore Patrick Terminals by making an attempt to tear up enterprise agreements with employees earlier than the federal election.
Labor, which has been performing strongly in latest polling, has promised to cease employers from unilaterally terminating agreements if it wins the election which is because of be held on or earlier than 21 Could.
Enterprise agreements, struck between employers and their employees, present situations that go away employees higher off general than the underlying award situations governing their trade. The employment situations they set down proceed in drive till a brand new settlement is struck or they’re terminated by the Truthful Work Fee.
Functions to terminate enterprise agreements have been comparatively uncommon till a landmark choice in 2015 through which rail firm Aurizon satisfied the FWC to tear up a dozen agreements it had beforehand struck with unions.
Following Aurizon’s victory, terminations skyrocketed, based on FWC experiences and analysis by the Australia Institute.
Terminations reached a peak of 508 in 2017-18 and have since fallen again however stay above pre-Aurizon ranges of round 200 a 12 months or much less, with 330 functions to terminate lodged with the FWC within the 2020-21 12 months.
“It appears to us like firms are seeing this second as their finest probability to chop employees’ wages and situations, whereas Scott Morrison is in energy,” the president of the Australian Council of Commerce Unions, Michele O’Neil, mentioned.
She mentioned the power of employers to acquire orders from the FWC terminating agreements with out the consent of staff was a “critical flaw in employees’ protections”.
“Corporations are opportunistically dashing to attempt to lower these agreements earlier than there’s probably any change in authorities,” she mentioned.
Within the skies
On Thursday, Qantas mentioned it had utilized to the FWC to terminate the settlement masking flight attendants who work on its worldwide flights “as a final resort to vary restrictive and outdated rostering processes”.
The applying, the primary ever made by Qantas regardless of a history of aggressive industrial relations behaviour that features grounding its entire fleet in 2011, got here after 97% of affected employees voted towards a brand new deal proposed by the corporate.
Qantas seeks to break down its present two lessons of flight attendants into one class. At the moment, staff employed earlier than 2008 are on an settlement that provides larger wages and higher situations, together with longer relaxation instances between longer flights.
Workers who have been employed earlier than 2008 are skilled to work on Airbus A330s and Boeing 747s – the final of which Qantas retired from its fleet in 2020 – whereas the newer employees can work on the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787.
The airline mentioned it needed to “simplify complicated and historic rostering situations that meant round 20% of greater than 2,500 lengthy haul crew may solely be used on a single sort of plane – which is unworkable because the airline seeks to get well from Covid”.
It mentioned a counter-offer from the employees union, the Flight Attendants Affiliation of Australia, “represented a $60m price enhance over 4 years – which can be unworkable” and accused the union of working a scare marketing campaign towards the brand new deal.
Former Qantas worker and federal secretary of the FAAA, Teri O’Toole, mentioned neither declare was true.
She mentioned the union had supplied to compromise, agreeing to create a single class of flight attendant that was a “hybrid” of the 2 present classes.
Attendants employed earlier than 2008 at the moment stand up to 5 days of additional sick go away a 12 months in the event that they contract an higher respiratory tract an infection – one thing the FAAA needed prolonged to all employees as a result of Covid pandemic.
“In the event that they’re saying it might have price $60m, I’d be shocked, as a result of it wouldn’t,” she mentioned.
“This was by no means a negotiation the place they have been critical about negotiating.”
She mentioned that, in contrast to rival Virgin, Qantas was “not on its knees” financially and through the pandemic “the price of crew has all been paid by the taxpayer”.
“They’re not trolley dollies, they’re first responders,” she mentioned.
“They may arrest unruly employees, they are going to struggle fires, they provides you with CPR and they’ll defend the flight deck with their life.”
By the ocean
Patrick Terminals moved to terminate its settlement with the Maritime Union of Australia in October.
Like Qantas, it has a protracted historical past of combating the unions. Stoushes embrace one of many key confrontations in Australian industrial relations historical past, the 1988 waterfront dispute, through which the corporate sacked its workforce, locked them out and skilled a alternative workforce of ex-soldiers in Dubai.
Patrick mentioned the settlement was “not match for function, because it comprises a lot of operational restrictions which have restricted the power of Patrick to fulfill buyer necessities at a time of congestion in world provide chains”.
Clauses the corporate objects to incorporate “secure manning” ones that specify minimal headcounts at work, restrictions on who it could possibly recruit and the “provision of Foxtel, protecting clothes, gymnasium allowances, prescription glasses, tea/espresso and Milo, quiet rooms & WiFi, discover boards, microwaves, fridges, chairs, grills, lounges and recliner seats”, which it says needs to be handled by way of firm coverage relatively than the settlement.
Unions say terminating the settlement may lower the pay of some wharfies by as much as 50%.
The MUA’s nationwide secretary, Paddy Crumlin, mentioned killing the settlement would finish “penalty charges, shift allowances and time beyond regulation provisions” that enable Patrick’s operations to run across the clock and accused the corporate of “sustained lies and vilification of their very own workforce within the lead as much as Christmas”.
Patrick’s chief government, Michael Jovicic, mentioned the applying was “not about decreasing the pay of our employees”.
“Patrick Terminals wants an settlement that’s match for function and doesn’t hinder our skill to service our buyer necessities,” he mentioned.
“At current our operations are restricted by the MUA when it comes to who we recruit, how we roster, who we promote and the way we service our prospects.
“This isn’t about their members’ pay – that is all concerning the MUA wanting to take care of their stranglehold and management of the Australian waterfront.”
Earlier than the fee
The ACTU’s O’Neil mentioned the FWC’s choice within the Aurizon case in 2015 made making use of for termination extra engaging to employers as a result of it “set a weird precedent that someway mentioned that forcing unions and employees to discount from the naked minimal was someway within the public curiosity”.
“We reject that,” she mentioned.
“What it noticed was an enormous escalation within the variety of firms that then tried to make use of this tactic.
“It’s one thing that actually places a gun to the pinnacle of employees within the sense that it’s such an excessive motion. You’ll be able to think about the affect it might have the place employees are advised their easy selection is both go backwards by as much as 50% of your wages, or agree with the deal we wish.”
The chief government of trade physique Australian Business Group, Innes Willox, denied that employers have been liable for a surge in termination functions over the previous few years.
“Unions and a few political events wish to argue that functions by employers to terminate enterprise agreements are frequent, however this isn’t supported by the details,” he mentioned.
He mentioned the variety of contested functions had fallen previously six years.
“Practically the entire functions made to terminate enterprise agreements usually are not contested,” he mentioned.
“Additionally, of the contested issues, most functions are made by unions and staff, not employers.”