SMH, 30 Aug '00
Union bypassed in bank's offer to 28,000
By BRAD NORINGTON, Industrial Editor
The Commonwealth Bank has launched a major assault on union power by
offering individual contracts to all of its 28,000 workforce and rebuffing
It is the largest single offer of non-union contracts by an Australian company
using the Federal Government's 1996 laws - and the first concerted attempt
by one of the four major banks to spread them to all employees.
Faced with no prospect of agreement with the bank, the new leadership at
the ACTU is treating it as a symbolic fight with implications for many major
It believes the other major banks and many large companies employing
white-collar workers will be sure to follow the lead if the union cause is lost.
According to the Commonwealth, the bank decided to resort to non-union
contracts - known as Australian Workplace Agreements - only after the
Finance Sector Union refused to accept a final wage offer.
The union is seeking a 13 per cent pay rise over two years, changes to
performance bonuses and assurances over staffing levels.
But the bank's final offer is for 6.5 per cent over two years and bonuses that
would give workers a total wage rise averaging 4 per cent a year.
The bank's deputy general manager of group human resources, Mr John
Matthews, rejected union claims that the bank was seeking to de-unionise
its workforce. He said the bank wanted to deal directly with its employees
without having "a third party involved".
The bank's final offer to the union remains on the table until tomorrow but
will be withdrawn after that so individual contracts can be sent to workers.
Mr Matthews said the contracts would mirror the terms of the
Commonwealth's final offer "in this round, but subsequent individual
contracts could involve changes to hours of work and wage packages that
calculated a total costing for employees' entitlements".
The dispute has come to a head on the eve of today's announcement by the
Commonwealth of its latest annual profit, widely expected to rise by 20 per
cent to $1.7 billion.
Staff will join protests outside the bank's Sydney headquarters this morning
to coincide with the profit result and stop-work meetings will be held around
the country on Friday to consider industrial action.
The ACTU president, Ms Sharan Burrow, said many bank employees were
underpaid and suffered great stress. They were understaffed and required to
work unpaid overtime to complete their workloads.
Ms Burrow said the salary of the managing director, Mr David Murray, was
out of proportion with those of bank tellers. He received $1.9 million and a
33.5 per cent pay rise last year, as well as pocketing $4 million from share
options this year.
"We say, don't sign a contract, don't accept an intimidatory offer that is
below what you are worth," Ms Burrow said.
"It's about de-unionisation. It's about making conditions worse."
(For non-Aussies, SMH = Sydney Morning Herald, ACTU = Australian Council of Trade Unions)