Freight Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation, Technology and IT

Fair Work supports Aurizon in ‘landmark’ decision

Aurizon Train

Aurizon has welcomed a decision by the Fair Work Commission to terminate expired enterprise agreements from May 18, in which the Commission found the rail operator’s bargaining to be “rationally based,” while the unions’ was “not common”.

Queensland-based Aurizon is in the middle of a prolonged bargaining saga with a number of unions, including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland.

The rail operator is trying to negotiate new deals for its Queensland workforce, which was formerly covered by a set of 14 enterprise agreements.

Two of those enterprise agreements have already been replaced by a single deal which was agreed to and formalised on January 21.

But the majority of employees are still not accounted for under new contracts, and are currently working under the remaining 12 expired enterprise agreements.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, enterprise agreements continue to operate after their nominal expiry date until they are replaced.

But if the Fair Work Commission decides – upon application from either party – to terminate the enterprise agreement, the workers formerly under that deal would no longer be covered.

In this case, the Commission has approved Aurizon’s request, and the termination will occur on May 18, 2015.

That means negotiations can no longer be easily stalled by either side, as that deadline approaches. Aurizon said the decision should get the ball rolling again on negotiation talks.

“This is a landmark decision, not only for Aurizon but in the broader context for Australian industrial relations,” Aurizon managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge 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,” Hockridge explained.

“We anticipate today’s decision will assist us in moving towards that outcome.”

The decision from the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission said many of the provisions sought by the unions so far in negotiations were not common in most enterprise agreements.

“They restrict Aurizon in making business changes that it wishes to make in response to a competitive market situation,” the Commission said. “The restrictive provisions restrain Aurizon’s capacity to effectively manage its labour resource needs.”

Meanwhile, the Commission found Aurizon’s goals to be reasonable.

“Aurizon has endeavoured to negotiate changes to those provisions but the lengthy and comprehensive negotiations have not led to an agreement,” the Commission found.

“Many of the changes sought by Aurizon in the negotiations seem to us to be rationally based.

“We readily understand its desire that its now private sector business no longer be restrained by provisions that were effectively imposed through the privatisation process.

“We do not think the changes proposed [by Aurizon], objectively viewed, involve exploitation or unfairness in the terms and conditions of employment of Aurizon employees.”