||Year End 2005|
Interview: Back to the Future
Unions: A Real Page Turner
Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
International: Around The World In 365 Days
Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
Politics: The Year That Was
Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
The Locker Room
Waves of Destruction
Free to Rat
Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
Proportion, Not Distortion
The Pin-Striped Union
People who work in banks and insurance companies can be a pretty conservative lot.
Inside all day, in front of computers and dealing with customers, it is hard to imagine your average teller rocking the boat.
Don't be fooled. Amongst the desks, swivel chairs and white boards, the Finance Sector Union waged massive fights against some of the nation's biggest employers this year.
Thousands of job cuts, ingenious schemes to pay employees less for doing the same job and a focus on short-term profits have made for ferocious trench warfare with one of the four big banks, while some others are dragging their feet over new collective agreements.
This very middle class union is the new face of militancy, but lawyers have replaced picketers and questions at shareholders' meetings and media strategies have replaced chanting into megaphones.
"Professionals and para-professionals make up the majority of the industry now," says FSU national secretary Paul Schroder.
And while the number of strikes and stop work meetings has dropped, bank professionals and middle managers earning over $60,000 p.a., along with the banks' IT professionals, are becoming more union active and aware.
For example, earlier this year the managers at Super Partners, a superannuation administration company for industry super funds, walked off the job over their working hours.
"The more senior people in that organisation thought enough is enough, we are working excessive hours and we want some protection under our EBA, and we are prepared to take industrial action to get it," says Schroder, adding the issue was quickly resolved once the managers threatened to walk off the job a second time.
"We are seeing a bit more of that, it is interesting" he says of activism amongst high value employees, adding ANZ IT workers, some on contracts and others as full time employees, also took industrial action out of fear of their jobs being outsourced.
This year the union has employed sophisticated media strategies to get their message across to great effect.
When the Commonwealth Bank of Australia released a grooming handbook for employees suggesting, amongst other things, that women wear flesh coloured bras and men trim their nose hairs, the FSU suspected this guide would be used to stop employees getting pay increases they would otherwise qualify for as part of the bank's strategy of making performance reviews harder and less objective.
After taking advice on how the media would view the handbook, the Commonwealth Bank Officers section of the FSU decided to release it to the media, with enormous success.
On Monday December 5 CBA management woke to find passages of the handbook quoted extensively in at least one newspaper in every state, the subject of talk-back radio and featured on that evening's A Current Affair on Channel Nine. The CBA quickly issued a public apology to staff.
But the courtroom was the arena for the FSU's biggest fights and victories.
In October the FSU settled a two-year court case against ANZ over staff not having rostered days off. The victory meant the reinstatement of RDOs and a payment of between $500 - $2000 to those staff who had missed on RDOS since 2001, putting a total of $3.5 million in the pockets of employees.
The other big victory has been against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which Schroder describes most aggressively anti-union, pro individual contracts employer in the sector "bar none."
In September, the FSU won its case against the CBA over its plan to shift hundreds of employees onto individual contracts under an ingenious scheme that involved making CommSec, a subsidiary of the CBA, their new employer. The plan would have enabled the bank to pay those employees up to 30 per cent less for doing exactly the same job.
This month the CBA was fined a record $750,000 over scheme and told to give those forced to become CommSec employees back, their old wages and conditions. The judge hearing the case lambasted the bank for acting "solely in pursuit of its self interest and profit ... without proper regard for the legality of its conduct."
The FSU's victories in the courtroom have not gone unnoticed by John Howard. Schroder says it is clear the federal government's solicitors had the union's victories in mind when writing the WorkChoices legislation.
"It's as if they have gone out of their way to make sure if those cases were run again the union wouldn't win," he says.
He, along with the rest of the union movement and the business community, is currently waiting for the federal court to hand down a landmark decision involving the CBA suing the FSU for its shareholder activism.
This case will decide whether the union, which is a CBA shareholder, applied illegal pressure on the bank by putting forward a formal resolution at the 2004 annual general meeting for a review of the "Which New Bank" restructuring, which has seen 3,700 jobs cut over the last three years, each year. The CBA claims by doing this and writing to board members, the FSU was attempting to "coerce" it into signing a new enterprise agreement.
Despite the importance of the case, CBA chairman John Schubert took the opportunity at the CBA annual general meeting in October to publicly deny the bank was suing the FSU for its shareholder activism, much to Caddie's amazement and frustration.
However, the despite the ongoing dramas with the CBA, the FSU has had some good experiences with management at different banks.
This month at the Westpac AGM, chairman Leon Davis announced the bank wanted to reach a new agreement with the union over workers' conditions, although it is still interested in seeing what the new IR laws will mean for them next year. National Australia Bank, which Schroder describes as the "most constructive" of the big banks, is keen to maintain an enterprise agreement with the FSU next year, although the radical nature of some of the provisions relating to remuneration has got the FSU a bit worried.
These tactics are complicated, expensive and technical. But the way this pin-striped union fights its battles reflects the wishes and desires of how its members wish to see themselves.
They are employees who think of themselves as professionals. They work longer hours than required, frequently work when they are ill and feel they owe customers a very high level of care.
"If you were an employer, they are your perfect employees," says Schroder, who says this outlook can give the impression of a meek workforce. "Our view is their commitment to going above and beyond the call of duty lead can to them being done over and pushed around. Well, we are going to continue to push back."
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