The Guardian October 4, 2000


Bank contracts are derailed

"Non-collective employment arrangements" is the term the Commonwealth 
Bank management uses in its campaign to replace collective bargaining with 
individual contracts. In an important victory last week the Federal Court 
in Melbourne derailed the Bank's "non-collective" push, ordering it to stop 
offering individual contracts to its 22,000 workers.

The Court found there was an arguable case that the bank had misled staff 
about the contracts, and had arguably induced and coerced staff to leave 
their union and accept the insecurity of an individual contract.

Management has continually denied it was pursuing an agenda of Australian 
Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and insisted it wanted a collective agreement.

But a strategy paper entitled "Best Practice People Management" set out the 
real aim of having all staff eventually go onto "non-collective employment 
arrangements". The bank's employment executive John Mathews stated that "in 
the long run we'd end up with everyone on individual arrangements".

The Court issued the injunction in response to a Finance Sector Union 
application which argued that by refusing to conclude enterprise bargaining 
negotiations with the union and offering its entire workforce individual 
contracts, the bank had contravened the Workplace Relations Act.

This included Section 298M which prohibits employers from inducing 
employees to leave their union; Section 170NC which prohibits employers 
coercing employees to make or not make an agreement; Section 170WG which 
prohibits employers from making false or misleading statements about AWAs.

In its decision the Court criticised the Commonwealth Bank for misleading 
staff about the negative impact that accepting an AWA would have on 
important staff conditions, saying of the bank's conduct, "If it is not 
intentional in the sense of being deliberate" it is at least "reckless".

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet welcomed the decision, describing it as another 
body blow for Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith's discredited AWAs.

"This decision is a damning indictment of the Commonwealth Bank which has 
used Peter Reith's AWAs in an attempt to coerce and mislead some of the 
most vulnerable employees into abandoning the protection of their union and 
accepting individual contracts", said Mr Combet.

He said the decision builds on previous Court judgements that clearly 
showed powerful employers were attempting to use individual contracts to 
get rid of unions and cut the pay and conditions of ordinary workers.

"There are 22,000 employees in the Commonwealth Bank, most of whom are 
union members and who have made it clear they want the bank to negotiate a 
fair agreement with their union", he continued.

"Yet, under Peter Reith's laws the bank can simply ignore the wishes of the 
majority of its staff and issue divisive and secretive individual 
contracts. These laws are fundamentally unfair, Fair laws must respect the 
right of workers to bargain collectively."

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