The Guardian September 12, 2001


Threat to Yallourn Energy jobs

Peter Mac

The jobs of hundreds of employees in Victoria's LaTrobe Valley have been 
put at risk by last week's decision of the Industrial Relations Commission 
(IRC). The decision will allow the company to eliminate compulsory manning 
levels, to scrap the former agreement for consultation with unions in the 
event of major work changes, and to make compulsory retrenchments "in 
redundancy situations".

The decision follows nearly two years of fruitless negotiation, 
characterised by determined "stonewalling" by the company.

After the IRC's announcement the chief executive of Yallourn Energy, Mike 
Smith, stated that as a result of the decision the company's employees 
would receive an immediate $1000 payment, and "an opportunity for up to a 
further 20.percent pay rise over three years and a move to a 36-hour week." 

This is, however, a hollow promise, as any move by unions for either a pay 
rise or a shorter week would certainly be opposed by the company, which 
would hold an additional big stick in the form of unappellable dismissal.

For its part, the Commission was absolutely blunt about where its 
sympathies lay. In an astonishing display of partisanship it declared: "In 
permitting Yallourn to introduce change without the agreement of unions, 
making compulsory retrenchments in redundancy situations, and not 
prescribing minimum manning ratios, we have clearly had regard to how 
productivity might be improved in part of the business concerned." 

In short, the Commission has "resolved" the situation by simply giving the 
company industrial carte blanche to do what it wants in order to maximise 
its profits.

Needless to say, the company is delighted. Mike Smith declared that the 
decision represented "the fairest possible outcome", and agreed with the 
IRC that it would allow the company to "modernise" its business.

Yallourn Energy decision has set a dangerous precedent. Three other LaTrobe 
Valley power generation firms, whose enterprise bargaining agreements are 
either coming to an end or are in the negotiation phase, are now certain to 
press for a similar deal from the IRC.

Luke Van der Meulen, Victorian branch Secretary of the Construction, 
Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, commented, "This decision vindicates our 
doubts about the independence of the AIRC".

Referring to the IRC's decision statement, the power industry negotiator 
for the Victorian Trades Hall Council, Brian Boyd, declared: "If the impact 
of this document spreads, it will mean literally hundreds of jobs going in 
a region that has been decimated by unemployment. That is something we 
can't tolerate."

Power industry unions will hold mass meetings in the LaTrobe Valley this 
week. Brian Boyd commented grimly, "the impact of this document, in terms 
of further job losses, will be resisted collectively by the union 
movement."

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