Aurizon has agreed to wait until a Federal Court appeal, before it terminates expired enterprise agreements covering the majority of its Queensland rail workforce.
The rail operator is in the middle of a prolonged bargaining saga with a number of unions, including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland. 12 expired agreements, covering the bulk of Aurizon’s workforce, are still in dispute.
Under the Fair Work Act, expired enterprise agreements remain in place until they are replaced with new agreements.
But in what Aurizon managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge called “a landmark decision,” the Fair Work Commission in mid-April ruled that Aurizon could terminate the 12 agreements on May 18.
If Aurizon terminates the expired deals, workers’ employment will be governed instead by the Rail Industry Award 2010, the National Employment Standards and individual contracts of employment; all of which were described by Aurizon as “less favourable” to workers.
Ahead of the May 18 termination date, however, the unions have appealed the Fair Work Commission’s decision to the Federal Court.
And Aurizon said on May 5 that it had agreed to hold off on terminating the enterprise agreements, until the Federal Court hears the case.
Hockridge said that while Aurizon does not accept that there is any error in the Fair Work Commission decision, the operator is prepared to suspend acting on the termination until the hearing begins on May 21.
“We want to minimise the disruption to our employees and customers,” Hockridge said on Tuesday.
“After negotiations extending two years we can wait a few more days to let the legal process play out,” he reasoned.
Aurizon said that following any enterprise agreement terminations, it would undertake to maintain a number of conditions such as base wages, for the next six months. But, the operator warned, a range of other terms and conditions currently “enjoyed” by employees would be impacted.
“At the end of the day we want a fair deal for our employees that is competitive and allows our company to grow,” Hockridge explained.
“That is why while the legal process is underway we will still continue to negotiate in good faith with the unions on the substantive and unresolved issues associated with the new agreements.
“Therefore we urge the unions to engage in meaningful and productive dialogue on the proposed new agreements.”