Protected action order ‘too late’

The Fair Work Commission has granted the CFMEU a protected action ballot order for workers at Loy Yang power station.

But the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union fears it could be too late, with the possibility AGL’s enterprise bargaining agreement could be terminated before any industrial action is taken.

The PABO was granted on 28 October with the FWC finding that “the CFMEU has been and is genuinely trying to reach an agreement with AGL Loy Yang”.

CFMEU Victorian district mining and energy division secretary Geoff Dyke described the decision as a “just outcome”, but was disappointed in the “unreasonable delays”.

The union first applied for the order, which sought for Loy Yang A power station employees to vote to stop work between one and 24 hours and to ban the operation of power station units, on 21 March, 2016.

It was rejected by the FWC two months later and a second application was declined in July, with the Commission calling the CFMEU “combative” in its negotiations.

Mr Dyke said the seven-month delay had “harmed” the workers’ bargaining position immensely, with voting expected to be finalised no earlier than 29 November.

When granting the PABO last week, Commissioner Cirkovic imposed a seven-day notice period before any industrial action could take place. Three days’ notice is typically required.

Mr Dyke said this further delay meant protected action could not occur earlier than 9 December, leaving the possibility the existing EBA, currently under deliberation by the FWC, could be terminated before “workers have any chance to take protected industrial action to press AGL to bargain”.

The Express reported last week that up to 80 per cent of Loy Yang workers would look for new jobs if the agreement was terminated, as revealed in a CFMEU-commissioned survey.

“We think there’s no justification for termination based on the evidence but we’ll have to wait and see,” Mr Dyke said.

AGL Loy Yang general manager Steve Rieniets said he was concerned the union had rejected a compromise deal which would have resolved the dispute and, instead, were “pursuing damaging and unnecessary industrial action”.

Mr Rieniets said negotiations had been continuing “without progress” for more than 15 months, with the union twice rejecting generous pay conditions and offers including a 21.5 per cent wage increase over four years in December.

“And now they want to disrupt the operations of one of Victoria’s major power generators,” he said.

“The energy industry in the Latrobe Valley faces increasing uncertainty around its future and this will only be made worse by the CFMEU pursuing union rhetoric ahead of its members’ best interest.”

Mr Dyke assured the community any industrial action would not impact the state’s power supply.

“We will limit our action to ensure surplus power to Victoria,” he said.

A decision regarding AGL Loy Yang’s application for the current EBA to be terminated is expected in the coming weeks.