There are plenty of ups on for lift mechanics.
There is good news for the lift industry coming out of Queensland and the Northern Territory this week where the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union secured an in-principle agreement with Kone on multi-storey allowances for construction site workers.
ETU Queensland Organiser Keith McKenzie said the ongoing negotiations with the major lift companies had hit a point where no one wanted to be the first to budge.
“They were all similar but a little bit different,” Keith said about the battle of wits that had reached a stalemate until the Kone lift mechanics elected to take protected industrial action.
“The winning of this condition took guts and determination and while the lift industry may be a small sector of our union, members across the industry talk and certainly lock in behind each other,”he said.
“Whilst not all Kone employees will get the allowance, unless they work on construction sites, all members stuck together in solidarity, looking after each other’s backs.
“That’s what unionism is all about.”
It’s anticipated now that the other major lift corporations will do what’s right and agree to the multi-storey lift allowance for their workers.
The multi-storey allowance fight has been a long-time sticking point for lift mechanics in the state and territory, but it comes as welcome news for workers in the industry still in a hard fight with bosses hellbent on watering down Australian standards.
“It’s ongoing and we haven’t given up on it yet,” said ETU Assistant National Secretary David Mier, referring to the battle to maintain ASNZs 4431 that dictates what jobs require two-man teams.
The ETU does not agree with the changes to the standard because it will result in a more unsafe workplace and possibly lead to death, the ETU produced a video to assist highlighting the concerns about watering down Australian standards.
Dave said lift companies are trying to wipe a table that shows which jobs require the two people on site.
“We need that in there so that these jobs don’t get diluted on safety grounds,” Dave said.
“But, unfortunately, we can’t put that in agreements because the bastard building code prevents us from have these protections.”
The Assistant Secretary said that larger companies generally will stick to the safety measures, but there are inscrutable bosses who would send workers on solo missions if they could get away with it.
“It’s a safety issue, especially if you’re working in a lift pit,” he said.
“You don’t want one person in there alone because accidents can and do happen.
“If they have to get into a pit, someone can go and turn it on and that could end in tragedy,” he said.
Dave highlighted the tragic accident in Wellington, New Zealand, when lift technician Brendan Scheib was crushed to death in January 2016 while working in a lift shaft alone.
A coronial inquest found that because Scheib was working alone it was impossible to know what exactly happened to cause the man’s death.
Scheib had been working for Otis for 27 years, with the coroner noting he was a very experience technician and ruling that he was most likely killed when the elevator automatically tried to reposition itself on the ground floor after a safety switch either not properly engaged or had been accidently disabled.
“Accidents can happen, and we simply can’t know exactly what happened to cause this man’s death,” Dave said.
“But if he wasn’t working alone, if he had a partner there working with him and watching his back, then there would have been a different end to that day.”
Union wins apprentices $250k in backpay
There was even more good news in Victoria were more than 20 apprentices had their Christmas come early this year, as ETU Lift Industry Organiser, Steve Diston, helped them uncover over a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid wages.
The apprentices were wrongly underpaid by lift giant Schindler, as the company mistakenly had them on the wrong rate for a number of years.
Steve made the discovery during the unions’ bargaining over a new enterprise agreement with the company. He said the case highlighted how important it was that every apprentice was in the union and clued up about the right wages and conditions that the trade had won over the years.
“It’s not enough to tick a box and forget about your rights at work. You’ve got to be alert and check your payslips with your workmates – sometimes an employer might not even realise they’ve got you on the wrong rate. It always pays to find out who your shop steward is and get to know them. Talk to your organiser.”
“I think it’s a timely reminder for apprentices to realise they’re part of the union. So often they don’t realise they should be a part of their union.”
ETU Victoria Secretary, Troy Gray, says the case highlights the importance of unions in combatting wage theft. Typically, it takes workers on their own 24 months to challenge an underpayment by an employer though the Federal Court.
“When workers have a strong union, they can win back stolen wages pretty quick. If you relied on Turnbull’s Fair Work Ombudsman, in most cases you’d be kissing your stolen wages and super goodbye. At best it will take two years and thousands in legal costs.”
He says this case shows that with an effective union you can get your money back in one afternoon. Unions have been increasingly critical of the Fair Work Ombudsman, which last year found over one in three businesses were underpaying apprentices under their watch.
“These people did an audit of 822 businesses, and found 264 bosses cheating their apprentices. What did Fair Work do? They ‘cautioned’ 54 and sent five ‘infringement notices’. Five. I doubt a single one was taken to court.”
“Even after all that, they got back the workers $393,000 in two years – the ETU got back $250,000 in one afternoon. It pays to be union.”