Appin staff widen EA front

SMALLER workforce groupings might increasingly start enterprise agreement negotiations after staff from the Appin longwall mine set a precedent by winning their first-ever EA from BHP Billiton after three years of talks and various Fair Work Australia battles.
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Blair Price

Staff at the New South Wales coal mine, which includes management, engineers and off-roster roles, were under individual contracts in 2010 when they took issue with the conditions lost by a newly employed staff member’s contract.

With help of specialist union the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia in 2012 they won various challenges to FWA and defeated an appeal to the Federal Court over BHP failing to bargain in good faith.

Finally, through a conciliation process involving a FWA commissioner that started in February, the staff approved an EA through a September ballot.

“This is a landmark case,” APESMA collieries staff division director Catherine Bolger said.

“It serves as a signal to employees across Australia that if a majority of employees want an enterprise agreement, they can achieve it.”

She said Appin staff worked hard for their EA but this work would make it easier for other employees.

“Their hard work has secured them a standard set of transparent employment terms and conditions and – perhaps most importantly – ensured that no one is left behind on individual contracts with lesser conditions,” Bolger said.

“The great success of this as a test case is that a small group of employees has been able to succeed in establishing a first-ever agreement with a large initially unwilling employer in BHP.

"Even with a company the size of BHP, the democratic and determined choice of these workers, supported by their union, achieved an agreement.

“This certainly paves the way for other groups of employees to work for all the benefits that come with enterprise agreements.”

She said in 2010 there was a lot of mystery at Appin with what was on individual contracts, with new staff getting left behind on conditions.

“Interestingly, in the last week we have seen an attack on redundancy conditions in the coal industry

– the exact conditions that Appin staff have actually managed to lock in for the next three years,” she said.

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