Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fines for AWA duress

The Workplace Ombudsman has fined a number of companies and launched investigations into others following allegations that their employees are being forced onto Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) ahead of new laws expected to be tabled next month in federal Parliament that will ban AWAs.

Zinifex Australia is being prosecuted by the workplace regulator in the Federal Court of Australia for allegedly applying duress to four workers in connection with an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA) at the company’s former Hobart smelter.

“Duress to a worker by anyone in connection with a workplace agreement is intolerable and utterly unlawful. We have warned all participants in the workplace many times that we will prosecute those we allege to have engaged in such conduct as with Zinifex and we will continue to do so,” said Workplace Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson.

Wilson has also confirmed that it recently commenced an investigation into allegations that duress was being applied to Telstra workers to re-sign AWAs.

At the commencement of the investigation, meetings were held with both Telstra and senior representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and unions from which allegations were received from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

The CPSU spokesman said that Telstra has been giving employees inaccurate and incomplete comparisons between what they would stand to get under an AWA and a collective agreement.

“There is a climate of fear and people feel as though they’re being strong-armed into locking into these five-year contracts … People are being told that if they don’t sign AWAs they could potentially lose their redundancy entitlements,” the CPSU spokesman said.

The Workplace Ombudsman has also launched an investigation into allegations made by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) that the University of Wollongong has also been trying to lock staff into AWA individual contracts before the Labor Government’s legislation takes effect.

New staff members at the university’s medical school are being asked to sign AWAs that are inferior to the collective agreement negotiated by the NTEU, according to the ACTU.

The university’s AWAs run for five years without guaranteed annual pay rises. They also remove significant employment conditions compared to the collective agreement, including some allowances, leave provisions, levels of redundancy pay and protections for academic freedom, the ACTU said.


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