Members would no doubt be aware of the communication sent out by Zinfra Operations Director Michael Green. It contains a number of ‘alternate facts’ that warrant a response.

Negotiations have now dragged on for several months over that time management has proposed a number of potential models  to the scope and shape of one or possibly two, agreements covering all staff and judging by Michael Green’s update they are looking at yet another.

The only consistent theme to management’s negotiating position has been to reduce conditions by excluding employees, current and future from existing conditions.

Our overall goal is to create collective arrangements that provide parity in wages and conditions across both UE and Jemena contracts that is sustainable for the business, keeps us competitive in the contractor market and is fair to all our employees.”

The ASU and Professionals Australia has proposed this from the start. Both the current Zinfra Interim and Zinfra Staff agreements contain clauses that say the parties will work towards one, common agreement. Zinfra walked back from this the moment negotiations commenced.

The problem for Zinfra is that the two agreements contain different conditions and naturally enough Zinfra want’s any common standard to be the lowest common denominator. How that stacks up as fair is not a question Zinfra are prepared to answer.

Discussion of retaining the current divide of two agreements came up in negotiations only because of Zinfra’s insistence on setting a lower bar and also seeking to remove existing employees from coverage.

Negotiations had reached a stalemate and this appeared the only way to move things forward on a no-disadvantage model.

“We don’t accept that new employees should receive different entitlements based on the network they are employed to work on.”

Which is interesting, as both Zinfra and Jemena, have been quite happy with this arrangement for a number of years.

Indeed it was the split of the two companies that created the differences. Further to that Zinfra is not proposing equal or identical terms and conditions, in fact it is further proposing to divide the conditions enjoyed in the workforce.

“To achieve these outcomes we believe we need to grandfather certain entitlements (such as redundancy pay and Long Service Leave) for employees who transferred to Zinfra from Jemena in 2018 and to offer equivalent conditions consistent with the current ZNX Victorian Staff Agreement to all new employees of the business moving forward. “

Zinfra are quite happy to have lesser terms and conditions in the Staff Agreement, quite happy to have a distinction between employees on remuneration agreements and those solely on the EA and quite happy to have different conditions for existing and new conditions. Irony is clearly not their strong suit.

“As a contracting business within the power industry, our clients (network owners) are under continual pressure from regulators to reduce the cost of electricity for end users.  In turn, network owners are demanding from contracting partners an innovative and efficient service that reduces  cost expenditure.

To remain a sustainable offering in our industry, we need to offer a competitive service against companies such as Downer, Electrix, Lendlease, Broadspectrum and Ventia.”

The part of the business Zinfra is targeting is the ex Jemena employees working on the JEN network, it’s worth noting that the conditions they are happy to keep are those of the Staff Agreement working on the UE network.

Zinfra have confirmed that they have a contract locked in with their sister company for at least five years.

For the claim of competitive requirements to ring true it would mean that Jemena would have to be looking at cancelling its contract and tendering out the work within the next three years, the lifetime of the proposed agreement.

In our opinion that is not a realistic likelihood and completely flies in the face of the heavy messaging Zinfra is engaged in about being one company.

Members have rejected management’s offer(s) to date. It is interesting to note that as late of this week’s meeting no costings have been provided for any of the claims, whether accepted or not. A number of the claims actually have no cost and the claims that Zinfra has made to remove existing conditions of Long service Leave and Redundancy for future employees cannot provide them with any financial advantage for at least 10 years. The removal of Construction and Project Managers from coverage of the EA, likewise, on their own admission, will provide them with no cost savings.

The parties are due to meet again Tuesday week and we remain committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable outcome. Whilst it saddens us to have to go down that path, members have unanimously endorsed the union seeking protected action ballot and consequent industrial action if Zinfra cannot be made to see sense.

For further information please contact:
ASU Organiser Jonathan Smallbone | jsmallbone@asuvictas.com.au

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