Impasse reached as strike action looms

An impasse has arisen between Yallourn power station’s chief union and station operator Energy Australia, with a 48-hour stop-work planned by workers from this Wednesday.

Last Wednesday the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union issued Energy Australia with a stop-work notice despite both parties having committed to ongoing Enterprise Agreement negotiations for much of last week.

Negotiations have now dragged on for nine months and by late Friday talks had deadlocked.

Overtime bans will commence Tuesday on site, ahead of the planned stoppage.

EnergyAustralia issued a strongly worded statement declaring it would “no longer have separate discussion with the CFMEU” and would consider its “options”. It declined to detail what those options might be.

The company expressed “disappointment that during the discussions period the CFMEU issued a further notice to initiate disruptive industrial action”.

Friday’s deadlock followed news 10 days ago that industrial action at Yallourn had forced EnergyAustralia to put a 12-month delay on at least 600 job opportunities tied to a major generator shutdown at the station which had been scheduled to commence shortly.

Despite the CFMEU coming under fire from other industry stakeholders, including some union sources, for its refusal to support a moratorium on industrial action for the outage period, on Friday its lead negotiator Greg Hardy maintained continued action was necessary because key “outstanding matters” could not be resolved.

EnergyAustralia accused the CFMEU of appearing “more intent on taking industrial action than reaching genuine agreement with Energy Australia to cover its Yallourn employees” and said the union had “rejected out of hand” a “generous offer” put forward involving “a 25 per cent pay increase over four years”.

Mr Hardy said he did not know what the pay offer would have amounted to but “that is not one of the major sticking points”.

“That is just (EnergyAustralia) grandstanding for the purposes of the public; they are saying that to win public support and make us sound unreasonable,” he said.

Mr Hardy said the key concern for CFMEU members was securing the “ability to have disputes heard by Fair Work Australia” and that EnergyAustralia was “doing all they can to block that access”.

He said the company had not advised him they were ceasing all talks and claimed the CFMEU had been preparing for continued talks over the weekend before The Express informed him of EnergyAustralia’s statement.

“So they have elected not to continue those talks and they are trying to portray us as the bad guys – this makes it very hard to close the gap and it is disappointing the company has chosen to communicate with us through the media,” Mr Hardy said.

Yesterday, EnergyAustralia group executive manager operations and construction Michael Hutchinson disputed that claim, saying when negotiations concluded around midday Friday the CFMEU and Mr Hardy were “informed it was our view we had reached an impasse in terms of negotiations because little to no progress had been made on substantive issues”.

Mr Hutchinson defended the company’s stance, telling The Express “we haven’t tried to take anything off employees and we have not asked for anything additional.”

He said the existing EA, which had been in place for “some time” had “worked” but “they (CFMEU) are now layering a whole lot more requirements on the company, for them to be involved in decision making”.

He said the current agreement allowed unions access to FWA “for disputing anything to do with an employment agreement” but the CFMEU now sought “a whole range of rights with regards to decisions being made around the business and we just don’t think that is appropriate”.

“It goes back to the sort of things that were in place in the 1990s which fell away during the last major dispute at the start of 2000,” he added.

When asked on Friday if the CFMEU’s notice of industrial action damaged opportunities to negotiate in “good faith” with EnergyAustralia, Mr Hardy said “that notice has been in since (last) Wednesday and we still met all day yesterday and this morning, so they are not saying they won’t meet because of industrial action pending”.

Mr Hutchinson, however, said the notice had put the company “in quite a difficult position,”, adding the CFMEU was “not showing any movement towards reducing their level of additional claim on the company.”

As at the end of last week Mr Hardy said EnergyAustralia’s senior managers said “they needed to work on some things in preparation for the industrial action… but unless (they) are getting themselves trained up on how to operate the turbines and boilers then I can’t see what they will be doing for the next three days”.

Mr Hutchinson said EnergyAustralia was “putting contingency plans in place now to try to mitigate the extent of loss due to this action”.