Are you worth the truth?

Members in Catholic systemic schools have reported some quite bizarre exchanges with local diocesan staff who have been sent out to workplaces to ‘explain’ the alleged enterprise agreement to those who would be covered by it. It is sad but not surprising that in many cases our members know much more about the issues than those attempting to present information. It’s always been difficult to spruik a shoddy product and so it is with the contentions these folks have been sent to sell.

The Archdioceses of Canberra and Goulburn, and Parramatta dioceses (and others) have declared that an agreement is finalised. This is simply untrue. There is no agreement. The most recent draft provided to the Union was dated 17 February and emailed to the Union in June and a further document emailed on 25 August. Unless employers have been negotiating with themselves to finalise something, this statement is one of many inventions. Touting falsehoods and misinformation is certainly not in the spirit of good faith bargaining but perhaps even worse are the half truths told by some in answers to member questions.

In answer to a question about access to arbitration one presenter answered, “you will still have access to arbitration under the agreement we are proposing” but conveniently did not go on to add “as long as the employer agrees”. Our members see through this nonsense and such misrepresentations can only intensify the distrust that is yet again growing towards local employers.

It’s always been difficult to spruik a shoddy product and so it is with the contentions these folks have been sent to sell.

Wrong and contemptuous

On another occasion, a spokesperson claimed that a new regime of staff being dragged to arbitration tribunals by other staff would be unleashed if changes were made. This is both wrong and contemptuous. Likewise, the claim that the Union would ‘force’ issues to arbitration without attempting to resolve them in other ways. Those who say these things are completely ignorant of the Fair Work Act and the processes of the Commission and have no legitimate role in this debate.

We in the Union believe that access to arbitration on request of either party is essential to settling disputes quickly and efficiently. Arbitration simply means handing a dispute about the agreement to an umpire when it can’t be settled by negotiation. With arbitration at the end of any dispute process it focuses attention on resolving the issue without the intervention and decision of a third party.

This access is being denied by all 11 directors of Catholic education in NSW and the ACT. We have been told by CCER that it is the directors who insist that they have the power of veto. If this is true every Catholic employer is seeking to weaken and deny fair industrial rights to their employees and stands condemned for it. If this is not the case they have the opportunity to speak out.

None have done so and they seem intent once again to allow their bargaining agent (CCER) to strip as many workplace rights from our members as possible. This is recidivist behaviour and members will remember attempts in the last round of negotiation to strip almost every condition and reduce the pay of support staff.

Let me be clear. It is the Union seeking a change to the ‘dispute settlement’ section of the enterprise agreement. Industrial circumstances have changed and recent rulings from Fair Work have made it clear that if the words do not change then access to arbitration will require the agreement of both the Union and employers. Our members deal with changed circumstances every day and know that when matters change adaptation is critical.

If the material circulated by employers is the sum total of their objections and reasons against change to the ‘dispute settlement’ clause in any enterprise agreements they are as weak as they are false. There are only two reasons employers are holding out on this: they collectively seek to limit the industrial rights of teachers and support staff and to exercise even greater command and control over their employees.

John Quessy