Which bank's AWA offer hits the Federal Court?

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Which bank's AWA offer hits the Federal Court?

The right to collective bargaining will be under the spotlight tomorrow when the Commonwealth Bank and Finance Sector Union face off in the Federal Court over the bank's offer of individual contracts to 22,000 employees.

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The right to collective bargaining will be under the spotlight tomorrow when the Commonwealth Bank and Finance Sector Union face off in the Federal Court over the bank's offer of individual contracts to 22,000 employees.

The FSU is seeking an injunction against the bank's offer of Australian Workplace Agreements, following the breakdown of enterprise bargaining negotiations, saying the bank has been misleading in information put out to employees.

The union's national assistant secretary, Peter Riordan, told WorkplaceInfo the union would be arguing under s298 and s170MC of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 that the bank's offer would diminish collective bargaining and freedom of association, and would coerce people not to take collective action.

The parties have been negotiating towards an enterprise agreement for the past six months, but Riordan said the talks broke down over the bank's refusal to move past a final pay offer of a 6.5% rise guaranteed over two years, and failure to guarantee staffing levels.

He said with workers at the ANZ, National Australia Bank, and St George making 4.3%, 4.4% and 4.5% a year respectively, the Commonwealth was trying to set a new industry low for the majors.

Riordan said given the bank's record profits this was a 'miserable and greedy' position, and the union would not tolerate the 'arrogant and bullying tactics' that had seen AWAs offered when the members rejected the bank's agreement proposal three times. He said the bank intended to 'pick off' workers one by one by offering the AWAs, which would be extremely confronting for many workers.

Apart from the threat to collective bargaining, he said, the bank wanted to lower conditions, seeking to change hours of work and sick leave. Riordan said while the talk in the agreement and AWAs was of change only 'by agreement', in reality individual employees would find it hard to stand up to their managers.

He said the union was also concerned that all references to it, and to referral of matters to the AIRC, did not appear in the AWAs.

Riordan said the union hoped to restart the stalled enterprise bargain talks in conciliation talks in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission next Monday, and would also be concentrating on customers and shareholders for support.

The bank questioned why the union was taking the Federal Court action, instead of letting the employees decide for themselves.

The CBA's deputy general manager, group HR, John Matthews, told WorkplaceInfo that while he had no doubt workers wanted more money, he rejected the union's claims they had knocked back the offer three times.

He said the pay offer in the AWAs was still the same as the EA offer, and the bank estimated that with a restructuring of the bonus system it would bring in rises of around 4% a year. Matthews rejected Riordan's claims that pay should be higher to take into account the bank's profits.

'Bank profits have very little to do with rates of pay', he said. 'Market rates set the rates of pay and we believe our rates of pay are market rates.'

And, he said, the individual contracts and enterprise agreement under negotiation contained only slightly changed terms from those which employees were currently working under. He said while the nuance of the complex policy made the changes difficult to explain, they concerned only managerial issues, rather than changes to employee entitlements as such.

For example, he noted the bank presently had what amounted to open-ended leave if a person was genuinely sick. The changes would concern the delivery of medical certificates, options facing someone unlikely to return to work, and so on. Some 'minor changes' to hours of work in different business units were also on the cards.

He said while it was not usual for AWAs to refer to the union, or the AIRC, that the union would still have powers under the Workplace Relations Act 1996. And he rejected Riordan's claims the circulars explaining the AWAs had been misleading, saying the bank had told workers they could still belong to the union.

This came alongside a 'fair treatment' (dispute resolution) clause which 'makes it clear to people that they have a right to escalate a dispute within the organisation'.

Matthews said the result of the offer wouldn't be known for at least another week. The bank had previously had no intention of offering AWAs on anything more than a selective basis to certain groups (4000 employees are currently on AWAs), he said, reiterating that the enterprise agreement offer was still on the table.

He said he hoped talks in the federal Commission on Monday would be constructive, and the bank may have to reconsider its position pending the outcome of tomorrow's hearing.

 
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