2018: Year of the EBA
By Chris Gazenbeek, State Secretary
Enterprise bargaining has been extremely important for SDA members because it has delivered substantial wage rises and improved working conditions for over 25 years.
The whole nature of Enterprise Bargaining for all unions changed in May 2016 when the Fair Work Commission(FWC) changed its interpretation of the ‘Better Off Overall Test’(BOOT).
Old FWC Interpretation
The old FWC interpretation meant that penalty rates could be retained by ‘rolling them up’ into a higher base rate of pay. Furthermore, these higher base rates of pay were complimented by improved working conditions. Importantly, the ACTU which is the peak body of the Australian union movement had supported and endorsed the ‘rolling up’ approach for over 25 years.
This practice of rolling up rates in SDA negotiated Enterprise Agreements delivered weekly wages $90 higher than the award rate for major supermarket chain employees. In the Coles Retail EBA for example, 18 and 19 year olds received $100 to $150 above the award. At Bunnings and Costco, adult retail workers received a weekly wage rate $130 above the award.
2016 FWC Interpretation
In May 2016, the FWC changed its thinking and decided that every individual worker covered by an Enterprise Agreement had to be individually ‘better off’ than their respective Modern Awards.
In simple terms, this meant that if an EBA, for example, covered 200,000 employees and 199,999 employees were markedly ‘Better Off’ by $1,000 and one employee was ‘Worse Off’ by one cent, then the FWC would not approve the Agreement for the 200,000 employees even if the total workforce voted to support the Agreement.
Fast forward 18 months and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Different Fair Work Commissioners have had different interpretations of the BOOT. In fact, some Commissioners have approved Enterprise Agreements which passed the old FWC interpretation which has only created further confusion. To further muddy the waters, the FWC has sadly commenced a regime of gradually reducing Sunday penalty rates in the retail and hospitality Modern Awards.
It has been against this background that the SDA has successfully negotiated new EBAs in companies such as IKEA and Priceline and we are waiting for the FWC’s approval for the new Domino’s Agreement. Also, the union has negotiated interim wage increases with companies such as Kmart, Target, Bunnings, Myer and Officeworks.
Our Coles supermarket members are well aware that their 2014 Enterprise Agreement was initially approved by the FWC and later repealed in 2016. In November 2016, we convened a meeting of Coles Shop Stewards who heard a comprehensive report on the history of Coles EBA negotiations. They then unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for Coles to recommence negotiations with the SDA to negotiate a BOOT-compliant EBA.
During 2017, we negotiated with Coles for a new EBA noting that it had to be compliant with the FWC’s new interpretation of the BOOT. A further three meetings were held throughout Australia with Coles Shop Stewards during 2017. They endorsed four key principles which we took to the negotiations with Coles.
These four key priorities were:
- Protect take-home pay;
- Improve penalty rates;
- Secure hard-won SDA Union conditions; and
- Ensure pay rise for all employees.
I am pleased to report to all members that our negotiations have concluded with Coles and we have been able to deliver on all four priorities.
The new ‘in-principle’ agreement ensures pay rises for every worker and comes with a one-off payment of $475 for full-time employees and pro rata payments for part-time and casual employees.
Importantly, the new agreement has a different wage structure with a greater emphasis on late night and weekend penalties. Existing Coles employees will receive a special ‘top-up payment’ to protect their existing take home pay.
The new agreement delivers above-award wage rates, above-award leave conditions including paid domestic violence leave, long service, compassionate, pre-natal, blood donor, emergency services, defence and natural disaster leave.
The agreement also locks in voluntary work on public holidays and flexible rostering provisions to accommodate family and study commitments and safe transport home.
The SDA strongly supports the new agreement because we have delivered on all fronts. All members gain from the agreement and no one loses. The alternative to the proposed agreement is that Coles workers would revert back to the General Retail Industry Award. This would be disastrous because members would have their wages cut and their conditions stripped away. Like all new Enterprise Agreements, there will be some teething issues. Members can be assured that the union is fully committed to taking up members’ concerns through the grievance procedure with the company should the need arise.
At the point of writing, meetings are being held in the stores where the proposed agreement is being explained to employees by SDA organisers and shop stewards. Coles employees across Australia will then vote on the agreement and if successful, we will go to the FWC for the approval of the new agreement.
I would like to thank all of our Coles shop stewards and members for their patience and understanding during the last 20 months.
Current EBA negotiations
We are currently negotiating with Woolworths Supermarkets, Bunnings, David Jones and Kmart and negotiations will shortly commence with other major companies. Also, our negotiations are about to get underway in the Woolworths and Coles DCs.
Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us and I have every confidence that we will look back on the year and acknowledge 2018 as the year of the EBA. Members can look forward to their wage increases, improvements in their penalty rates and maintenance of their conditions.
This requires a lot of hard work and I look forward to working with you throughout 2018.