Where is our Enterprise Agreement really at?
IEU has received many questions from members in Catholic systemic schools on the progress of the current EA discussions with CCER. In order to promptly address the concerns of members, IEU has released the following responses.
Q1. Has the Union and Catholic dioceses finalised an Agreement?
- No. The last draft of any Agreement seen by the Union was dated 17 February 2017. In the meantime, we have had productive negotiations and reached an ‘in principle’ understanding about many issues but these have not yet been written into the language of an Agreement.
Q2. Are there outstanding issues?
- There are a few issues not resolved and several matters in our claim, which the employers have simply rejected. Some of the concerns about workloads where the Union has been dealing directly with the dioceses have not yet been satisfactorily resolved. The issue of access to arbitration is a major impediment to reaching agreement.
Q3. What exactly is arbitration?
- Arbitration is the umpire, a final process of resolving a dispute. In our case a dispute might be about the Enterprise Agreement, Work Practices agreements or the National Employment Standards. When the Union and employers disagree about the meaning or where one party believe the rules have been broken they try to mediate or conciliate the issue. They try to settle their differences or reach a compromise through discussion. If they can’t the matter can be referred to the arbitrator and the decision is binding on both parties.
Q4. Why does the Union support arbitration?
- The Union has always supported arbitration because it is a fair, mature, and cost-effective way to solve intractable disputes. A compromise or agreed settlement is far more likely to be reached at an earlier stage if the parties know that an independent body will determine an outcome if they cannot do so.
Q5. Why does the Union want the words to change in the Agreement about arbitration?
- There are two reasons for this. First, we have always believed that either side could refer a matter to arbitration if conciliation failed and we have repeated correspondence from Catholic employers that this was the case. Early this year however one employer tried to block access to arbitration and claimed we did not have this access without their agreement. Secondly and most importantly, midyear the Fair Work Commission (FWC) determined that access to arbitration required the agreement of both parties unless any EA explicitly allows either party to refer a matter. The Union wants to make this right explicit.
Q6. Do other teachers and support staff have access to arbitration
without consent of both parties?
- Yes, NSW government school teachers and teachers and support staff in Victorian and Queensland Catholic schools have this right. Catholic employers in the health industry have given this right to their employees as well.
Q7. Isn’t arbitration expensive?
- On the contrary, arbitration was designed to be prompt and inexpensive. Unions and employers can engage lawyers but are not required to do so. Arbitration makes decisions but does not impose fines or penalties. The alternative, which is using the Federal Circuit Court is often very slow, subject to much legal argument and almost always requires expensive legal representations. Some matters (like RFF) cannot be referred to the court.
Q8. How can the Union get the dioceses to change the words
about arbitration if they don’t want to?
- We need to show Diocesan Directors how strongly our members feel about protecting any agreement they make and ensuring that it can be enforced. To do that the IEU has proposed and more than 500 chapters have agreed that we ask the FWC to let us take industrial action.
Q9. So, will members be voting on taking industrial action?
- Not at present because although the Union has asked the FWC to allow this vote, the Catholic employers are using legal technicalities to object to our application and to stop members taking action to protest. Employers have now delayed any hearing of the matter until 29 August.
Q10. Why are our employers doing this?
- We don’t have an answer as to their motivation but given the change in their attitude to arbitration earlier this year and their opposition to our application to take industrial action it seems they want a subservient workforce who have little protection and no opportunity to speak up.
Q11. What does the Union recommend we do now?
- Chapter Representatives have been sent a petition which we want all staff to sign. The petition will help to show each Diocesan Director the depth and strength of feeling on the issue of protecting and enforcing any EA through arbitration while we await the FWC hearing our matter at the end of the month.
Q12. We have correspondence from our Director that we will be voting on an Enterprise Agreement in the second last week of term. Will that happen?
- The law allows employers to put any agreement to a vote at any time as long as they follow the rules. At this stage, any proposal they put would be a NON UNION agreement and we would urge everyone to vote NO.
Q13. Is there a simple way to resolve this?
- Catholic employers should agree to fix the arbitration issue, there will be no need for industrial action ballots and we can then resolve outstanding working conditions issues with dioceses, finalise the Agreement, vote on it and pay increases will flow.