Hard grind: nearly 2 years of negotiations for a 3 year enterprise agreement
The Fair Work Commission has approved a three-year staff agreement for a rail freight operator that took nearly two years to negotiate.
The company and unions — RTBU, AFULE, APESMA, QSU, AMWU and CEPU — have been negotiating since 2013 to move to three new agreements to cover train crews, maintenance and construction workers and staff.
The Staff Enterprise Agreement 2014, covering some 1400 employees, was the only one of three draft deals put to employees late last year that was voted up, with train crews and maintenance/construction workers overwhelmingly rejecting their offers.
Unions asked the company to re-run the staff ballot, which resulted in a slim majority of 463 to 433, after the company discovered that 13 of 50 ineligible employees had voted. Conceding that it "would have been better had this initial error not occurred", management said it would press on with seeking Fair Work Commission approval as, even if the 13 votes were ruled ineligible, the agreement was still approved by a majority.
The Fair Work Commission ultimately agreed with the company, saying that a majority in favour is the only "statutory test which matters" when the tribunal is called on to approve an agreement. It also ruled that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the unions' argument that "confusion" had led to some eligible employees not voting.
It said laws governing employee votes on agreements "do not envisage the Commission conducting a rather difficult conceptual test of speculating whether a particular employee or group of employees were so confused that they decided not to vote".
"This must be particularly so, in the absence of any direct evidence that some employees were so confused that they did not vote."
The new three-year agreement, which comes into effect on January 28, will deliver the staff and supervisors annual 4% pay rises.
The freight operator says the new agreement will also provide staff with "more contemporary employment conditions that will help deliver significant productivity and efficiency improvements". The company "looks forward to continued bargaining with unions on the remaining agreements".
The RTBU says it has held off on taking further protected industrial action regarding the remaining agreements because it is "prepared to see whether (the company) is prepared to be more reasonable in these negotiations prior to making a decision on our next step".
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