Unions have alleged that major companies are pressuring employees to enter into workplace agreements to avoid compliance with the Fair Work Bill when it is enacted later this year.
On Monday, an injunction was sought by Maurice Blackman Lawyers who were representing the Community and Public Sector Union, to prevent Telstra from forcing 150 employees to vote on a non-union collective agreement. Telstra withdrew the ballot before the matter proceeded in court.
Josh Bornstein, partner at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, told Lawyers Weekly that Telstra has been segmenting it's workforce into small groups and making them offers of non-union agreements.
"It does seem extremely unfair for groups as small as 30 - you've got examples here of 30 employees working in different Telstra offices in 4 different states - none of whom know the identity of the others being asked to vote on an agreement which is a collective agreement but who are precluded from acting at all as a collective," he said.
"This is really, a bit like a take it or leave it AWA strategy dressed up as a collective agreement and seems entirely inconsistent with the whole idea of having a collective agreement as opposed to an individual contract or individual statutory agreement."
Martin Barr, Telstra media spokesman, told Lawyers Weekly the company has and will continue to comply with the law at all times.
"Telstra's Employee Collective Agreement is about offering industry-leading terms and conditions," he said.
"Telstra has put forward a fair and competitive offer which protects all current terms and conditions of Enterprise Agreement employees and guarantees a 12.5 per cent pay increase over three years - that's over 13 per cent cumulative - plus up to 7.5 per cent in performance-based bonuses," he said.
But Bornstein thinks Telstra is acting in great haste to try and cover as many employees as possible with non-union agreements before the federal legislation changes in the middle year.
"My guess is that Telstra thinks WorkChoices is a much more attractive legislative regime for them to work under, they can reduce or minimise labour costs much more easily under WorkChoices then they will be able to do under the new legislation," he said.
The Australian Retailers Association, whose members include Baker's Delight, have also urged retailers to use a template job contract to lock in wages and conditions for five years, before the federal legislation comes into force, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
"The Association is encouraging members to pursue a strategy to avoid compliance with the new IR laws and squeeze the last bitter drops out of the Work Choices lemon," said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.
"The template job contracts would entrench Work Choices in the retail sector long after the Fair Work Bill and modern awards come into effect."
The Senate is conducting an inquiry into the Fair Work Bill this week.
- Sarah Sharples
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