The Guardian 14 March, 2007

Call centre collective
canned by corporate crackdown

Workers at a North Rocks call centre in Sydney’s north west are angry at the decision of their boss who refused to discuss a majority request for a collective workplace agreement.

Telephone sales workers at Officeworks, a subsidiary of Coles Myer, say management is using the Howard Government’s IR laws to block the majority decision that a union collective agreement be put in place.

Call centre worker Bronwyn Kuchin said that the decision to ignore the workers’ wishes highlighted the dangers faced by workers under the Federal Government’s legislation.

"The majority of workers want to have a collective agreement. Yet, the company has flatly said "no" without a reason or even a discussion. The new laws allow them to get away with it. We are hard-working and loyal workers. The least the company could do is discuss this matter with us.

"If this is industrial relations under John Howard’s IR laws, well, it stinks", Bronwyn said.

Staff at the call centre, the vast majority of them women, have been given a deadline to sign the new contracts. The new contracts have personal leave days taken away, an inferior redundancy package to that enjoyed by other Coles’ workers, no expiry date to the contracts and a clause allowing contractual changes by management at any time.

"We will refuse to sign. We won’t be bullied into it. We simply don’t want to go onto these individual contracts. The majority of us want to be on a collective agreement. We feel we will be safer and our jobs more secure if we stick together", Bronwyn said.

National Union of Workers NSW Secretary Derrick Belan said Officeworks would be smart to listen to the majority decision of their call centre employees.

"These workers are willing to tough this out. They have been treated like dirt. True, under Howard’s harsh IR laws bosses can refuse to enter into collective arrangements, but how can that be beneficial to better productivity and loyalty?

"Centre management is even going against Coles’ existing procedures. The rest of the Coles business accepts collective agreements. Yet, these managers can’t even bring themselves to sit down and talk about it.

"The workers’ disappointment will soon turn to outrage. Then Officeworks’ management could have a much bigger problem to deal with", Belan said.

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