Freight Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation, Workforce, Certification & Training

Aurizon’s union saga nears end

Aurizon coal train. Photo: Aurizon

A new enterprise agreement covering roughly 1500 Aurizon employees has been approved by union vote, moving the Queensland-based operator a step closer toward ending its two-year battle with unions.

82.7% of employees who voted on the new agreement were in favour, in a ballot that ran from June 6 to 15, Aurizon said. 886 votes were in favour of the agreement, while 185 were against.

The Construction and Maintenance Enterprise Agreement is one of the three major EAs Aurizon and unions – primarily the RTBU – have been trying to come to equal terms on for the last two years.

Under the union-approved deal, which replaces and unifies nine separate deals, employees will earn a 4% pay increase each of the next three years. In return, Aurizon will remove the ‘no forced redundancies’ provision from the deal, and will no longer supply rail passes for the majority of its employees: only those with more than 25 years’ experience will be able to keep their passes, and theirs will be removed from 2018.

With the positive vote from union members, the agreement has been put to the Fair Work Commission, and will be in force seven days after approval from the Commission.

It will join the Staff Enterprise Agreement – covering roughly 1300 employees – which was implemented in January. The third major agreement, the Train Crew and Transport Operators agreement – covering around 1700 workers – has come to an in-principle deal, and will be voted on by union members between July 20 and 27.

For both Aurizon and the unions, the developments signal the end of a long, drawn out negotiation period. As is often the case, both sides insisted they were bargaining in good faith, and both have felt – at times – that the other side was being unreasonable.

While the Staff agreement was done and dusted earlier this year – replacing two old deals with one new one – talks dragged on over the final two deals, which together were set to replace a set of 12 old agreements. Aurizon stood on one side; unions – including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland – on the other.

The conflict came to a head in April, when the Fair Work Commission ruled Aurizon was allowed to cancel the old agreements, leaving employees covered only by the Rail Industry Award (2010), the National Employment Standards, and individual contracts, conditions Aurizon described as “less favourable” to workers.

Speaking at the time, Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge praised the Fair Work decision.

“This is a landmark decision, not only for Aurizon but in the broader context for Australian industrial relations,” he said. “Our aim always has been to negotiate in good faith workplace agreements that are contemporary and forward looking, and match those already agreed by unions with our direct competitors.”

Unions appealed the Fair Work decision, but following a hearing in May, Aurizon formally scrapped the old deals.

This week, announcing the successful vote on one of the major new agreements, and the dates for voting on the other deal, Aurizon’s executive vice president for Human Resources, John Stephens, praised employees for approving the deal.

“After two years of bargaining in good faith with unions, the positive vote on this Enterprise Agreement is a very welcome result,” he said.

“It will be the catalyst for significant productivity enhancements and improved workplace flexibility. This is good for employees, customers, business efficiency and the broader economy.”

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