Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1521      5 October 2011

Barossa Council EBA dispute

Members of the Australian Workers Union employed at the Barossa Council in South Australia achieved a landmark victory in their dispute with the Barossa Council for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

The Barossa Council encompasses the renowned wine growing region of the Barossa Valley, a semi-rural regional area of South Australia and blue ribbon conservative territory.

The current EBA expired on June 16 with the major concerns of the workforce centred on cost of living pressures and job security caused by the increasing practice by Council to contract out work traditionally done by its own workforce.

Accordingly a claim was presented to Council for a 15 percent wage increase over three years along with improvements to call-out provisions, overtime payments and a “no forced redundancy” clause. Council’s initial response was to offer a 10.5 percent wage increase over three years, a broader mandate to contract out work and the rejection of the union’s other claims.

After negotiating some improvements including the no forced redundancy clause, gains in penalties and call-out provisions and a 12 percent wage offer Council insisted on this being put to a ballot. The union recommended a no vote to this offer on the unsatisfactory wage component and accordingly the result of the ballot was a 99 percent rejection.

In response, the Council withdrew all matters agreed to in the negotiations and directed that a four percent increase to wage rates take effect immediately, despite no new agreement, and that the terms and conditions of the previous EBA continue indefinitely.

In response, and in what was a first and unheard of in the history of the Council, the union members, who represent 95 percent of the affected workforce, voted unanimously to take industrial action. Accordingly, a stop work action was carried out with a protest at the Council’s offices, with the local paper in attendance, on September 20, to greet the Mayor and elected Councillors arriving for a Council meeting.

This action generated a high degree of public interest, concern by the elected Councillors that an industrial dispute was occurring and an increase in determination by the workers that the dispute would continue until a satisfactory outcome was achieved.

The following morning Council management declared that their position would remain unchanged, no improved offer would be forthcoming and anyone who did not like it could look for another job anytime they wanted! After strong representation was presented to management in response to this from the workers through their union delegate, a new offer was presented the following day.

The offer, comprising a 13.5 percent wage increase over three years, a no forced redundancy clause, significant improvements to call-out provisions, meal allowances and improved penalty rates. It was endorsed by a meeting of the workforce and subsequently carried in a ballot. Management achieved greater flexibility to contract out work but not to the full extent aimed for.

The union sees the outcome a a major victory in the context of a small workforce, in what is hostile anti-union territory, who up until now have had no experience in testing their collective strength and achieving what would be one of the best EBA outcomes in the state.  

Next article – Carbon Tax Roundtable

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