Industrial action at council looming

City of Melbourne (CoM) employees are gearing up for industrial action following the breakdown in enterprise agreement negotiations.

Unions are organising a ballot and are encouraging council employees to vote in support of a smorgasbord of possible bans and stoppages to put pressure on council management.

There are 40 possible disruptive activities proposed – ranging from not “reading or responding to emails from managers, directors, the CEO or councillors” to 12-hour work stoppages.

At the end of June staff voted two to one against accepting an offer from management of a new enterprise agreement.

Complicating the situation since then has been the death of council HR manager Mark Greenberg and serious illness to CEO Ben Rimmer, who is on indefinite leave.

Council’s business director Martin Cutter is acting in the CEO position, but he wouldn’t talk to CBD News about the state of the enterprise agreement negotiations.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) says Mr Cutter is not talking to them either.

In an update for members on July 14, ASU organiser Ty Lockwood said: “We’ve not yet been formally advised when council wish to resume the bargaining process. So, where to from here? The ball is in CoM’s court at the moment. We can’t initiate the bargaining process until they are ready.”

Mr Lockwood said the ASU had lodged a Protected Action Ballot Order with the Fair Work Commission, which the City of Melbourne had not opposed.

“The next step once the Fair Work Commission grants the order is that the Australian Electoral Commission will mail a ballot paper to all ASU members,” Mr Lockwood said.

“Once the protected industrial action commences it will be up to CoM to resolve this industrial mess they created, all the while councillor campaigns will be building some steam towards the elections in October.”

Council finance chair, Cr Stephen Mayne, says the city can’t afford what the unions are asking for.

“Councillors have nothing to do with the enterprise agreement but it is noteworthy that spending on employees will finish ahead of budget in 2015-16 and is budgeted to jump by 8 per cent in 2016-17, despite the new rate-capping regime,” Cr Mayne said.

“City of Melbourne staff have arguably the best pay and conditions of any council workers in Australia, as reflected by the fact that 167 employees were paid more than $130,000 in 2015-16, many of whom are covered by the enterprise agreement.”

“This high-pay environment has been partly achieved through the so-called ‘increments’ system where staff are effectively guaranteed certain promotion payments on top of the agreed annual rises of more than 3 per cent.”

“Management is seeking to reform the increments system so it is more performance-based, but this has been met with some resistance from staff who perhaps don’t realise quite how good they have had it for so long, relative to what happens at other workplaces.”

“This excessive spend on staff is increasingly reducing council’s ability to deliver some long overdue capital projects such as the renewal of Queen Victoria Market, without going into debt.”

The previous enterprise agreement expired on June 30.  The council’s recently-published 10-year financial plan budgeted for an average 4.5 per cent increase in staff costs per annum.

The plan warned that: “A 1 per cent difference per annum from the assumption equates to approximately $80 – $85 million over the life of the plan.”

Mr Lockwood said council management had been “playing a game of cat and mouse” with the three involved unions since March.

“They withheld information for about six weeks in relation to the ASU’s family violence clause, extra parental leave and the extra superannuation payment for women,” Mr Lockwood said.

“Two of three clauses were very ‘ify’ so, basically, CoM was asking the vast majority of employees to vote on entitlements that they were unlikely to access. Members felt this was deceptive by CoM promoting this.”

“On top of these so-called positive entitlements CoM were attacking redundancies, the employee classification structure, and offering the $1000 ‘transition payment’ to try and get this EA over the line.”

“Members and employees saw the $1000 as CoM trying to entice them with a pre-tax incentive, into voting favourably for conditions and entitlements that were less than they currently have,” Mr Lockwood said.

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