The Guardian May 8, 2002


Bus union opposes individual contracts for trainees

The Brisbane Branch of the Bus division of the Australian Rail Tram and 
Bus Union (RTBU) is to hold a stopwork meeting on May 9, which is to hear 
the views of the membership in relation to the Brisbane City Council's 
refusal to grant full-time permanent employment to existing casual 
employees. (In Brisbane, the publicly owned bus service is operated by the 
City Council)

The proposal of the Council is to move 60 casuals to "traineeships" even 
though the casuals are already driving buses and have been fully trained to 
drive and operate Council buses.

Normal training for a bus driver is a five-week course, whereas the 
proposed "training" under the "traineeship" legislation could continue for 
three years.

In the case of newly employed workers the wages of a bus driver on a 
traineeship would be $100 per week less  according to a leaflet issued to 
union members and the general public by the union.

The Council's attempt to force present casual workers onto traineeships is 
designed to introduce the scheme by selecting a vulnerable group of under-
employed workers and to split the union.

The concept of traineeships is not new. The Keating Labor Government in 
1994 introduced the idea of a "training wage" for adults. This idea was 
outlined in a policy statement called Working Nation.

At that time considerable attention was being given to long-term youth 
unemployment.

Working Nation revealed that "action is also in train to introduce a 
new system of training wages. For the first time a training wage will apply 
to adults".

It claimed that "training can have on-or off-the-job components and will 
provide [an] employee with skills that are portable in the labour market. 
Those who complete the training satisfactorily will receive a certificate 
of competency under the Australian Vocational Certificate Training 
System...

"Employers will be able to choose whether to engage employees under 
standard Jobstart arrangements, or under the training wage. Some employers 
may choose different options for different individuals to suit their 
circumstances."

In addition to allowing employers to pay below award wages, the scheme also 
offered employers wage subsidies provided jobs were at least six months in 
duration.

Under the Keating plan conditions of a contract could be "negotiated" on 
the basis of individual contracts between employer and each worker rather 
than as part of a collective agreement between employers and the relevant 
trade union. All this had the approval of the ACTU at the time.

While the original traineeships were sold as a means by which to put young 
long-term unemployed back to work there is little evidence that they 
achieved any significant results.

However, the concept of a wage for trainees, significantly less than that 
under existing awards or enterprise agreements, has continued to be used by 
employers in some industries.

It is the attempt of the Brisbane City Council to use such a scheme to 
lower the wages paid to "trainee" bus drivers and to substantially extend 
their period of training, that is being resisted by the union. (The 
Queensland Government is currently reviewing the Training Employment Act).

The Bus division of the RTBU has put forward its position in an Open Letter 
to the Queensland Government's Minister for Employment, Training and Youth, 
Mr Matt Foley.

The union's letter says that "traineeships should be made a relationship 
based on collective agreement rather than individual contract and that the 
present Training Employment Act should be amended to provide for the 
protection of Award conditions and Enterprise Bargaining Agreement 
conditions for existing workers and future workers.

Making another point the union's Open Letter says that the Act should only 
"provide for payment of a training wage when someone is not performing the 
actual job for which they are being trained".

The union also calls for provisions permitting the dismissal of a worker at 
the completion of a traineeship to be removed.

The RBTU is also demanding that existing casual employees be made permanent 
full time or have their employment guaranteed before traineeships are 
introduced.

The union cites one example where a Queensland company sacked all of its 
trainees who had been taken from its existing workforce for the scheme! 
Those trainees were already experienced drivers.

Employer organisations should have to reach an agreement with their 
workforce as part of the introduction of traineeships", says the union's 
Open Letter.

A particularly important aspect of the union's demands is that all the 
problems raised by the union should be addressed by removing from the Act 
those provisions that make traineeships an individual contract matter and 
re-establishing collective arrangements.

The present "traineeship" scheme, like many other schemes, is put forward 
as a means to make the entire workforce "job ready", neglecting the need 
for job creation programs and economic policies that put people before 
profits.

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