THE COMMONWEALTH Bank has refuted ACTU and Labor Party claims that it is coercing staff into signing Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).
The ACTU claimed that Commonwealth Bank employees do not have a genuine choice when asked to sign one of the new bank-wide AWA individual contracts, and the union challenged the bank to conduct a ballot to determine whether workers want an individual job contract or a collective agreement.
“It is unnecessary and unacceptable that hardworking employees in bank branches as well as in call centres and back-office operations are facing major cuts to their basic job conditions. But that is exactly what big companies are being encouraged to do under the Federal Government’s IR laws,” said Gary Combet, ACTU secretary.
Unions claimed thousands of bank employees were facing the loss of overtime pay, shift allowances, public holiday pay, rest breaks, RDOs and other basic work conditions under the new AWA.
Under the terms of the AWA, bank employees can be rostered to work at any location any day of the week. Once signed, the AWA individual contract has no guarantee of a pay increase for the five-year life of the contract and this could see workers’ pay falling behind cost of living increases, the union claimed.
However, the bank said staff currently employed under the bank’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) can remain under the terms of that agreement and will continue to receive overtime, shift allowance, public holiday pay, rest breaks, RDOs and other basic entitlements.
“Our staff can choose to move to an AWA or stay under the enterprise bargaining agreement. No one is being forced,” said Commonwealth Bank spokesman Brian Fitzgerald, who added that the bank had been offering AWAs to its staff since 1997.
“Staff on an AWA get a higher salary but they also choose not to have overtime or rostered days or some of the other award-based allowances, so they’re getting remuneration in place of some of the allowances they previously received,” he said.
Labor Party member Stephen Smith’s criticism of the AWAs was also unfounded, according to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews.
“Mr Smith failed to mention that five years ago the Financial Sector Union (FSU) agreed on behalf of its members that a range of conditions could be exempted,” Minister Andrews said.
He referred to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Retail Banking Services Enterprise Bargaining Agreement of 2002 which included the bank, the FSU and its members.
The agreement clearly states that where an employee accepts an offer in terms of Clause 12.1, he or she may be exempted from the provisions of the Award and the EBA in relation to rostered days off, overtime and separate allowances, meal allowance, leave in lieu of travelling time, on-call allowances, telephone availability allowance, higher duty allowance and annual leave loading.
“Mr Smith also failed to mention that Commonwealth Bank employees have been entering into AWA arrangements for nearly a decade within excess of 8,000 employees signing AWAs over the past nine years; and five years ago, the Finance Sector Union agreed that AWAs could be offered to employees.”
Minister Andrews also said that employees have been willingly entering into AWA arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank in return for comprehensive salary packages well above the award and collective agreement rates including incentive payments and other flexible conditions negotiated with the bank.
“The Commonwealth Bank has regularly passed on generous wage increases to employees choosing to remain under the Commonwealth Enterprise Agreement; and the employees have a legal right to appoint the union to bargain on their behalf.”