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  Issue No 105 Official Organ of LaborNet 03 August 2001  




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Jim Marr reports that the Employment Advocate has been handed a chance to salvage some credibility by cleaning up anti-union practices in the call centre industry.




The CPSU Communications Union has formally asked the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA) to rule on the legality of AWAs forced on workers by call centre operators Vodafone and Stellar.

The documents, which workers are required to sign, have been targeted for alleged breaches of Workplace Relations Act provisions relating to "duress" and "freedom of association".

Hamberger has also been asked to rule on the legitimacy of Stellar over-riding the standard disputes settling procedure, effectively blocking staff from representation by an "agent or organisation" of their choice.

Assistant union secretary, Stephen Jones, admitted the approach was a "shot in the dark."

"Hamberger's track record is ordinary," Jones said. "The problem is that his office okayed these provisions in the first place. This approach is only one element in our efforts to get a fair go for these people."

Hamberger was a prominent member of Peter Reith's staff as the former Workplace Relations Minister redrew the the industrial landscape.

He moved to head-up the OEA, theoretically charged with delivering on John Howard's promise that "no Australian worker would be worse off" under his industrial laws.

Hamberger has used his office to undermine collective bargaining and try to marginalise trade unions.

But it is the way Hamberger's office has endorsed AWAs that shaft workers, especially the young, which has raised most eyebrows.

While wages and conditions have been slashed under his stewardship, the Employment Advocate has run a line which, at best, stretches the truth.

Central to the Government's AWA snow-job is its "no disadvantage test". Hamberger outlined its key elements, in the OEA's annual report:

"The OEA cannot approve an agreement if the employee is worse off, overall, when compared to the relevant or designated award" he wrote, "we also check that the employee has genuinely consented to any agreement."

Which might be okay if wages and conditions in awards against which AWAs were being measured were still relevant. Because of the attack on the award system, spearheaded by Reith and Hamberger, much remuneration is now set out in legally-binding collective agreements.

Awards, in industries like telecommunications, sit below collective agreements as basic safety nets.

This has allowed Hamberger to rubber stamp Stellar AWAs, for example, that leave workers $10,000 - $15,000 a year worse off than those previously doing the same jobs with Telstra.

Australia's largest company, too, now employs new call centre operators on AWAs. In its Townsville office the annual wage is $27,500 against the $33,000 set-out in the collective agreement.

Like Stellar, Vodafone, one of the world's 10 largest companies, writes AWAs that deny employees the right to union representation.

Each of these companies offers AWAs on a "take it or leave it" basis, making a mockery of Hamberger's claim that employees "genuinely consent to any agreement".

Hamberger recipe burns Sherri

Stellar statistics should have made Sherri Purse a company favourite. Instead, the Wollongong teenager chooses to spend her free time warning fellow workers about AWAs.

Stellar splits its "agents" into teams of 20-25 people. Its own print-outs reveal the 19-year-old topped her team for the week ending May 19, and finished second in the two subsequent recorded periods.

In April she received a certificate for "excellence in customer service" but was less than impressed.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm proud to have my work recognised but I thought it was a bit strange to give someone a certificate for excellence when they

were on a written warning.

"As soon as you join the union around here you are in for it."

Last month Purse addressed the CPSU's management committee about life at Stellar, emphasising the problems caused by AWAs.

Utilising 3pm starts at Burelli St, Wollongong, she gets around other sites with CPSU organiser Naomi Arrowsmith, telling her story.

"AWAs are unfair," Purse says. "We are on them for three years with no negotiations at all.

"Whenever they get you for a disciplinary reason it's - 'it's in the AWA or the company handbook and you signed it' - yeah sure, but if I didn't I wouldn't have a job."

From The Works, national magazine of the CPSU


*    Visit the CPSU

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 105 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Whose Advocate?
Employment Advocate Jonathon Hamberger argues the case for his organisation's survival and reveals his secret union past.
*  Politics: CHOGM: What Should Unions Do?
Activists Peter Murphy and Vince Caughley kick off the debate about what is the appropriate action ot take when CHOGM leaders meet in Brisbane
*  E-Change: 2.1 - The Changing Corporate Landscape
In the second part of their series on the impact of new technology, Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel try to understand the new corporate playing field.
*  Unions: Hamburgled
Jim Marr reports that the Employment Advocate has been handed a chance to salvage some credibility by cleaning up anti-union practices in the call centre industry.
*  Economics: Privatisation: The Dangerous Road
Frank Stilwell argues that the corporate collapses of HIH and One Tel are potent reminders of the downside of ‘people’s capitalism’.
*  History: Hard-Earned Lessons
Art Shostack looks at the legacy of the landmark strike by PATCO air traffic controllers 20 years ago.
*  International: Political Prisoner
Greenpeace campaigner Nic Clyde, facing up to six years gaol in the United States for taking part in a non-violent protest, speaks exclusively with workers Online.
*  Review: Seven Pubs and Seven Nights
Labor Council's newest recruit, Susan Sheather, shows she respects tradition by going in search of the perfect bar
*  Satire: Obituary: Mr Rob Cartwright - Captain of Industry
In all fields of endeavour, there are those who command our respect through their sheer commitment to excellence. One such titan was Rob Cartwright, whose chosen field, the obscure HR discipline of "moving people onto individual contracts" lost its greatest practitioner and champion late last night, following a tragic self-inflicted accident.

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»  Activist Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  War of Words: Crosby Goes Botsman
»  Tri-Star - Just In Time to Blame
»  Just a Tip
»  Concerns About Members Equity

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