Move to split unions

Yallourn Power Station is moving to split unions involved in a 10-month industrial negotiation saga, after the workforce voted down a direct pay deal offer from owner operator EnergyAustralia last week.

Wasting no time making its next move, the company announced on Friday it had applied to the FairWork Commission to begin conciliation with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, to end a month-long negotiation impasse.

The company said it would re-offer a rejected pay deal, made direct to 119 employees earlier this month, to the station’s 34 maintenance workers, represented by the Australian Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Services Union.

“Separating the agreement is not our preferred option but our maintenance employees shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to secure immediate pay outcomes and conditions by the actions of the CFMEU in relation to operators,” EnergyAustralia group executive manager operations and construction Michael Hutchinson said.

“We want to get an agreement as soon as possible that supports the 500 jobs we have on site, and is sustainable and allows us to run the business in this tough economic environment.”

The CFMEU has been spearheading high profile industrial action at the station, partaking in numerous walkouts and generation bans, with further actions planned.

In a letter to Yallourn Power Station executive manager Mark Pearson, CFMEU lead negotiator Greg Hardy said the “belated” decision to treat the unions separately was “nothing more than a crude ‘divide and rule’ industrial tactic that was doomed to fail”.

Mr Hardy said the company needed to radically re-assess its approach to enterprise bargaining, as the current approach was driven by lawyers from a “big end of town” firm remote from the practical concerns of employees.

The Express attempted to contact the four maintenance unions involved, however only received a response from AMWU organiser Steve Dodd, who said there would be a meeting with EnergyAustralia this week.

“At this point we are leaving our options open, but right now I am telling you we do not plan to break away from (other unions),” Mr Dodd said.

EnergyAustralia had offered a draft enterprise agreement directly to the station’s 119 production and maintenance workforce earlier this month, bypassing unions after negotiations reached an impasse in April.

A two-week voting period for the alternative agreement, which included a 25 per cent pay rise of over the term of the agreement, closed on Wednesday, with 76 workers voting against the offer, compared to 23 ‘yes’ votes.

CFMEU members had pledged to vote down the offer before the voting period started, due to the proposed EA’s omission of certain job security and consultation conditions.