Interview: The Wet One
Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Unions: Demolition Derby
Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
Politics: American Jihad
Health: Secret Country
Review: Walking On Water
Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
Month In Review
The Locker Room
The Legacy of 11/9
The CFMEU Race Debate #2
Keeping it Clean
Sue the Leaders?
Wrong Way, Go Back
Shame on Murray
Use or Abuse of Long Term Casuals
Speaking in Tongues
Like A Bastard
By Jim Marr
Virgin Mobile's Call Centre in Pitt St, Sydney, is this month's Tony Award nominee, not just because it stiffs its employees by up to $4000 a year but because the whole operation sums up Tony Abbott's brave new world of industrial relations.
While the Richard Branson-spawned operation gives the marketing finger to the establishment, on the ground it is light years away from the liberal, egalitarian image it tries to present.
Approximately 100 workers are employed at Pitt St, operating in a sterile environment where the only forms of visual stimulation are company logos and exhortations.
Disgruntled employees are already talking about turning the omniprescent "Beat Bill Rage" into a more meaningful "Beat Wage Rage".
They have all been employed on "take it or leave it" AWAs, the centrepiece of Abbott's drive to de-collectivise workplaces.
Abbott and his sidekick, Office of the Employment Advocate boss Jonathan Hamberger, of course, paint AWAs as mutually agreed alternatives to collective contracts. No compulsion and flexibility are the keys.
Well, the fact is when Virgin assumed control of their operation from sub-contractor, Merchant Solutions, they were crystal clear about the future of anyone who refused to sign. They would be out of a job.
The next "protection" was a No Disadvantage Test aimed at ensuring nobody would be worse off than under the relevant award. Virgin workers weren't to know that this has become widely regarded as a joke in the poorest taste. Imagine what thought when they learned that, depending on job, they were between $800 and $4000 a year down on minimum award payments.
They would also dip out on the extra week's annual holiday the award provided for regular Sunday workers.
There would be no objective classification criteria, leaving reimbursement and seniority entirely in the hands of management, and nor would there be rostering proscriptions inspiring one worker to complain of feeling in a "permanent state of jet-lag".
Another theoretical key to Abbott World is freedom of association. This has been raised to an article of doctrinal faith, at least when it comes to the right not to join trade unions.
But, apparently, there is no reciprocal right to union recognition. Virgin didn't recognise their first elected delegate. It took them one month and a day to answer his email informing them of his election. And it went downhill from there.
After one meeting where it rejected such radical proposals as establishing a consultative committee and allowing access to new starters, it referred his every initiative to Phillip St lawyers, Baker and McKenzie.
The joint Virgin-Baker and McKenzie line has been that there is no union because the ASU Clerical Workers have no coverage. Ipso facto, there are no union delegates, the clerks award does not apply and there is no need for negotiations with the ASU.
This Sgt Schultz approach has two glaring defects. It denies freedom of association to near-on 50% of its call centre workforce who have signed up with the ASU and, conveniently overlooks, that in framing the AWAs Virgin, itself, chose the Clerks Award for its No Disadvantage Test comparison.
When the AWAs were imposed on the workers the OEA wrote to them individually, asking if they had objections. The idea behind this, presumably, is to give the illusion of consultation while leaving disatissfied workers posted as individuals.
Yet, 34 Virgin workers lodged protests with Hamberger's office within 14 days, and another six have been moved to add their objections since the artificial deadline expired.
At least two female employees have been assaulted, leaving the building after 11pm finishes. Another woman was accosted in suburbia following the same shift. The AWA is silent on taxis or subsidised transport for late-finishing workers and Virgin doesn't see the need to negotiate the issue with the ASU.
Union reps say the sorry history elevates transport to a health and safety issue.
Paul Morris was the original delegate. He has since left but is fighting a constructive dismissal case against Virgin Mobile.
Morris told Workers Online it was his previous call centre experience, before three years in event management, including a stint with Opera Australia, that made him question Virgin's inoocence.
He found himself, he recalled, working longer hours for "far less pay".
As Virgins go, it seems, they know a thing or two about shafting.
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