Enterprise Agreement tug-of-war: Fair Work calls for resolution

Enterprise Agreement tug-of-war: Fair Work calls for resolution

Enterprise Agreement tug-of-war: Fair Work calls for resolution

Industrial action at bulk and container ports around the country came to an end recently, following a ruling by the Fair Work Commission. A major Australian stevedoring company and maritime union were ordered into negotiations over an Enterprise agreement that expired on June 30. The Commission instructed the parties to spend the next 35 days in talks in a bid to find a resolution.


An executive from the stevedoring company she was pleased at the outcome: “It means our employees are on the job and our terminals are operating as normal,” she said. “We’d be really hopeful and looking for the union to come back to the table and commit the time to try and constructively progress negotiations.”

Enterprise agreements cover the terms and conditions of employment – from break times and overtime, to dispute resolution procedures, salary and benefits. Designed to be mutually beneficial to both employers and employees, they must meet the conditions outlined in the Fair Work Act 2009 – a set of minimum terms and conditions of employment through the National Employment Standards (NES).

One of these is to make sure the agreement meets the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), meaning it must provide for the employee to be better off overall when conditions in the agreement are compared to the relevant award.

iHR Australia has workplace relations and industrial relations experts to help organisations develop, negotiate, approve and implement an enterprise agreement. Such advice can help prevent disputes like this one.

Employees at three container-terminals walked off the job for 24 hours: the first national stoppage since the famed waterfront dispute in 1998, causing significant harm to shipping lines, forcing changes to schedules and diversions to ships.

Deputy national secretary for the maritime union insisted the issue is “not about wages” but about ensuring job security for staff:

“Action was only taken as a last resort because the company cancelled a number of meetings after a period of obfuscation and belligerent obstruction.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, the stevedoring business said the union\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s proposed pay rises and changes to conditions for workers would increase costs by 53 percent at its Sydney port alone, with some workers to be paid $995 for a single Sunday shift. The company also claimed that the union had sought a 32-hour week to be paid at 35 hours:

\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\”The company\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s focus has always been to secure a fair and sustainable outcome in these enterprise agreement negotiations. We hope the suspension of industrial action will allow all parties to focus on negotiations to achieve this aim.”

A union branch secretary said there are basically two components to the dispute, national and local, with significant disagreements in both areas. “On the national level, we are seeking job security, ensuring compliance with the agreement and the award and establishing a level playing field regarding dispute settlement.

“It is now incumbent on the union to ensure the new agreement is stronger, with greater transparency regarding a number of industrial issues, including safety.”