The Guardian 22 June, 2005

WA journalists reject AWAs

Quality journalism and increasing experience no longer guarantee pay rises at the West Australian newspaper where staff asking for more are given a simple ultimatum: sign the Howard government’s non-union AWAs or stay stuck on the current rate.

The newspaper, twice warned about bullying behaviour, has told new staff they can have only have a job if they sign an AWA, says the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).

MEAA WA branch secretary Michael Sinclair-Jones says management refers to the documents as "No-Strike AWAs".

They require journalists to work if colleagues go on strike and remove a number of existing benefits, including an entitlement to six weeks annual leave, independent dispute resolution, and the right to have overtime payments fairly calculated.

"The AWAs introduce a set rate to compensate for overtime but there is no measure of how much overtime is considered unreasonable", Mr Sinclair-Jones said.

"This makes a mockery of the Federal Government’s claims that AWA’s offer flexibility of employment. In practice they force a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

"The concern we have is that instead of having pay rises on merit, journalists are now being asked to sign away their hard won rights to advance in their careers."

Mr Sinclair-Jones says this is particularly unfair on cadet journalists, who are being assigned to AWAs as little as 12 months long.

"Signing 12-month AWAs is contrary to the established practice of providing long-term career opportunities to industry newcomers and training journalists. It assigns them no faith in their future."

The MEAA believes insistence on signing the AWAs is a deliberate attempt to undermine journalists’ bargaining power when their collective agreement expires next year. But Mr Sinclair-Jones says the tactic is likely to backfire.

"Using AWAs creates a workplace climate driven by insecurity and uncertainly because people don’t know if they are going to have their jobs once they expire. This has an impact on morale and productivity.

"People are signing them because they have no choice."

The MEAA is urging members to contact their union if they are offered AWAs so it can act as their bargaining agent.

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