Company rushing to negotiate next agreement before expiry of current one sparks red flags for union members

National electrical contracting company PHE has a non-union endorsed national enterprise agreement due to expire at the end of 2023. However, in the last few months, PHE has been rushing to sign off the next agreement, prior to the expiration of the current one.

Companies use this tactic because workers are not legally allowed to take protected industrial action until 30 days before the expiry of the current agreement, severely undermining their power to stop work during the enterprise bargaining process.

ETU National Assistant Secretary Dave Mier and CEPU SA Organiser Alex Capper travelled 1900km over two days to remote sites in Carrapatena and Prominent Hill in South Australia to speak to PHE members about the best ways to bargain for a new agreement. They explained PHE’s tactics and why it gives workers more power to wait until the expiry of the current agreement before voting up any new agreement.

Protected industrial action is one of the most important bargaining tools that workers can use to get better rates of pay and conditions. As workers, we must remember how valuable our labour is, and remind those who make mega profits from it to pay us our fair share.

The officials met with some resistance in the lead up to entering some sites, which are run by mining company Oz Minerals. However, once the ETU National legal team intervened, the company eventually complied with the Union’s legal right of entry.

Dave and Alex worked with the members to formulate a log of claims for the new agreement, such as increased pay rates to keep up with increases in inflation; a labour hire ‘same job same pay’ clause, and allowances for living away from home, underground work, tool, license and site; overtime and superannuation.

The ETU has two key messages for workers at PHE.

  1. Don’t vote YES to a non-Union endorsed agreement – you’ll be getting a crap deal.
  2. Make sure you and your workmates join the Union. The more we unite, the more power we have, and the better deal PHE will have to offer.

“It was great to meet these members and remind them how powerful they can be when they stick together,” said Dave.

“After seeing PHE’s abysmal response to our log of claims, I am confident these workers can do a lot better. If the company doesn’t come to the table with a good offer soon, then they should know we’re just getting started,” said Alex.

Read more ETU news

This article was publised on 26 April 2023.