|Issue No 115||12 October 2001|
Rings of Confidence
Extracted from The Collaborative Games
- (Pluto Press)
In his study on the 2000 Olympics, Tony Webb argues that the government and unions reached a new level of cooperation.
The Olympic Games collaboration between the unions and the NSW Government goes back, at least, to 1991. When Sydney was bidding for the Games the Liberal government in NSW under Nick Greiner recognised that success depended on union movement cooperation and that Labor Council involvement in this was critical. To Michael Easson, then Secretary of the Council, the issues were jobs for workers, and the need for contracts that provided certainty for both construction and operation of the Games. He says:
"On the union side we saw this as an opportunity for the union movement - winning the Games would be a fillip for NSW, would be good for jobs and therefore for NSW and good for workers."
Nick Greiner, the NSW Premier, and John Coates of the AOC wanted union movement participation, in part because changing the IR image was critical to the success of the highly contested IOC bid process. They recalled previous support when the Labor Council opposed the boycott of the Games in Moscow (1980, over Afghanistan) and Los Angeles (1984, over Nicaragua). Discussions led to early agreement on both the Bid and the subsequent Games organising. Michael Easson says:
"Initially Greiner wanted a 'no strike' agreement - a blanket agreement. What we settled on was the form of words for an in-principle agreement that there would be no strike provided that the agreements negotiated were adhered to. We copped a lot of flack over this but it wasn't a case of giving away our rights - it was an agreement with two sides to it."
This was tested during the Bid phase. A one-day strike was planned over the Liberal government's IR legislation - inadvertently called at a time when an IOC delegation and President Samaranch were to be in Sydney. Rod McGeoch, who was managing the Bid, called Easson who recalls:
"We decided to delay the strike by one week. The result was a lot of favourable publicity but also I expended a lot of political capital in getting the delay."
Winning union backing wasn't easy. Some sections of the union movement felt passionately that the enormous amount of money the Games would cost should go to education and health rather than sport. There were also arguments from a militant group about 'collusive leadership' and how this benefited the government but not the unions. All these were aired on the floor of the weekly Labor Council meetings and provided a focus for discussion about supporting the Games. In the end the leadership won.
"I think it paid off in the long term ... we were involved in consultations at all stages of the Games and delivered what could be seen as best practice industrial relations and considerable benefits in terms of training. Unless we'd taken that decision the headlines would have been 'union movement destroys Sydney Bid' whereas the outcome created a lot of goodwill - a perception that the union movement was genuinely willing to be helpful on the Games Bid. When the Games decision was announced and everyone was being congratulated, Greiner called to say he was surprised the Labor Council was not mentioned in this post-Bid publicity as he'd valued the support and seen it as critical"
There were other examples of union cooperation. The Labor Council was called before the Technical Committee of the IOC. Michael Easson took Andrew Ferguson and Stan Sharkey of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
"This was a case of putting the unions' feet to the fire. The committee quizzed us on how far the union movement was behind the Bid."
And there was a dispute at the Opera House ...
"Workers were thinking of using the concert for the IOC delegates to highlight the issue. We worked through the early hours of the morning with Terry Ludeke [Judge with the Australia Arbitration Commission] to work it out and avoid the strike. In the Opera House even ... the smoke from the stage almost suffocated the IOC delegates - there we were fixing the IR problems overnight to have the performance almost choking them to death in the front rows the next day!"
In retrospect Easson has no regrets:
"The reality was that good people got behind the Games. We got good publicity from it and it had good employment practices. There was a willingness to regard the other side as worthy of respect. It's simple rather than complicated. Get people behind you on the idea of sensible industrial relations. A cooperative attitude - not one where you are there to be walked over - but one that contrasts cooperative IR with one where everyone does their own thing."
Industrial Relations at the Games - how it worked on the ground
"It got to the point where we almost forgot sport was involved we were so caught up in dealing with the problems on the site." Paul Howes, Unions 2000
What the unions also learned was that for all of the planning some of the arrangements for the Games workforce would be found wanting during the Games operation. Two weeks before the Games the unions were given accreditation for an official at each venue, allowing direct contact with the workforce, and 32 union officials from five unions were rostered to provide coverage throughout the Games. In addition members could access union support through a general call-centre number linked to a Unions 2000 office on site in the OCA building at Olympic Park. The plan was that unions would be in touch with the workforce and on call to identify and deal with any workplace or industrial relations problems that arose during the Games. In order to ensure efficient handling of disputes all officials involved went through a three-day training program organised by the Labor council and SOCOG. On site the rostered union officials had status on a par with venue staffing managers. The industrial structure envisaged by SOCOG was that each venue management would supervise the Games venue staff and volunteers allocated to that site. Contractor companies in the venue would have their own management and supervise their workers but report to the venue manager.
Fortunately a range of disputes in the 12 months leading up to the Games had helped in the building of trust between the unions, SOCOG and the companies. There had been:
Ø Changes to the awards
Ø Issues over paid and volunteer workers for the Ceremonies
Ø The question of bonuses for bus drivers
Ø A major dispute over young people, some as young as 14, employed as vendors who were being defined as 'contractors' with full responsibility for self-employment
Ø The problem of New Zealand security workers recruited without licences or job guarantees
Ø Underpayment of wages at Bondi Beach Stadium
Ø And a number of others
All had been resolved satisfactorily and a large reservoir of trust and respect had been established. But nothing like the problems encountered during the Games had been anticipated.
Even before the Games some problems were apparent. The opening of the Games villages in June 2000 exposed a lack of understanding among staff of the systems, particularly payroll for workers. The unions assisted with presentations to supervisors and helped with the interpretation of the award. Within a few days of the Games Opening Ceremony, caterers struck problems. People were simply not purchasing food on the scale anticipated and the contractors proposed to lay off 1,000 staff. Using the award provisions for flexible working the unions negotiated redeployment of some to other Games work. SOCOG staff used E-mail networks to contact a number of industry groups, letting them know that there were people willing, keen and available, and asking if they needed any staff. These industry groups sent the message on to their members and within minutes SOCOG had E-mails from all over town saying they had openings for this or that number, skill etc. and a hot line of positions found many people work. For the remainder, the unions and caterers negotiated an across the board reduction of hours rather than lay-offs so that no-one was without a job.
But above all the problem was with the payroll. Day in day out there were problems with people not being paid, in some cases for weeks. It was not that these were unusual, complicated or difficult to resolve. It was the sheer unremitting volume and the knowledge that the problem was a generic one - that the systems were simply inadequate and could not be reorganised during the course of the Games.
In all the unions negotiated 12 major disputes, eight with 'real strike-potential', during the Games period that required intervention from SOCOG at a senior level, and dealt with over 2,500 individual problems mainly over pay. The official procedure for dealing with issues through the venue manager was largely bypassed. Most problems were resolved directly with the companies involved. Many employers had people in place who were committed to resolving issues as they arose and networks of personal relations between the unions and these companies had been established. Some problems the unions stepped back from - judging that employers were acting with goodwill and working to deal with the issues.
One example might illustrate the nature of the collaboration. As part of the major problem we discussed earlier where caterers were laying off staff early I the Games, 20 workers in four bars in the Stadium threatened to walk out because three of their workmates had been laid off by the catering contractor Sodexho. Chris Christodoulou says:
"It took three meetings, at 10 pm, 12 midnight and 5 am, along with help from John Quayle, from SOCOG - along with a few drins I the bar ner the Novotel with the key workers in the dispute to fix it."
Paul Howes describes another:
"There were just two food halls for some of our people to take their meal breaks. We had employers saying the meal break starts when they leave work and they would have to get back in 20 minutes. As you know everything was jam packed on the site so it could take that long just to get between the buildings. SOCOG overruled the companies, saying that it starts when they get to the food hall but, during the Games, there were long lines in the halls - it could take ten minutes to get served - so it was changed again - based on the principle that workers deserved a real break - they had to be fed properly - we gave flexibility on meal times and short breaks - and the companies gave back within a human relations principled framework. Nobody abused the system and morale stayed high."
Overall the Games were a success, 'the best Games ever'. In the face of this the problems, large and small, pale into significance - unless that is, we wish to learn from both our successes and our failures in order to better understand:
Ø What are the underlying components of human relations framework that made this success possible?
Ø Which aspects were not in place I those 'near-disaster' areas and did their absence contribute to the problems?
Ø Why did these areas nevertheless succeed in spite of the problems?
Ø Whether any of these lessons might be useful in planning other major events or projects requiring collaboration between large groups of people in the future?
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Unions: From the Virtual Coalface
Computer programmer Vince Caughley argues there is a place for unions in the IT industry.
History: Conditions Precedent
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International: Victims of Terrorism
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Campaign Diary: Week One: Get Shorty
Labor's first week of campaigning was as an effort to gain attention from a nation rocked by the telvised war on terrorism.
Economics: Global Alliances
Ray Marcelo reports from India that the ILO is arguing that globalisation needs a worker and employer alliance.
Health: The Phantom Menace
Trade unions made an impact this week at an international congress In Melbourne in the global fight against AIDS.
Review: Rings of Confidence
In his study on the 2000 Olympics, Tony Webb argues that the government and unions reached a new level of cooperation.
Satire: Greens 'Quietly Unconfident' of Forming Government
A leaked memo from a senior member of the Greens reveals the party is unconfident of winning government on November 10.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005