The Australian Services Union always fights for the inclusion of robust Dispute Settlement Procedure clauses within Enterprise Agreements.
The importance of appropriate wording in the Disputes clause cannot be underestimated.
These provisions should allow any workplace matter to be arbitrated in front of the Fair Work Commission while maintaining the status quo until the dispute is settled.
Recently, ASU Organiser Karen Tantari used a Dispute Settlement procedure clause to save the jobs of two members at a large Southern Tasmanian Council. These members had been stood down due to a safety incident that happened almost three months earlier.
Council were determined to terminate the employees, claiming they had not complied with WH&S policies and procedures.
But the ASU was aware that, if terminated, it was unlikely that the employees would be reinstated following an unfair dismissal case and any settlement was likely to be in the range of just 10 weeks wages. We needed to halt the process prior to the termination occurring!
Karen was able to use the Disputes clause and maintain the status quo which meant that the employees could not be terminated until the Dispute was settled. The Dispute was then lodged with the Fair Work Commission.
Both members have been at Council for over 40 years with no previous disciplinary outcomes on record. Further, Council’s own independent report noted the multiple failings by the Council in their WH&S systems.
In short, Karen was able to prove that the General Manager was at fault for failing to provide employees with a safe system of work, which included the lack of up to date policies, procedures, Safe Work Method Statement, as well as training.
The action that Council was attempting to take by terminating was, therefore, both harsh and unreasonable.
After the strong advocacy of the union, our members were able to return to work with only a written warning for their part in the incident.
Our union’s focus on work health and safety is making a difference to members. Through this whole process, our union kept the pressure on this Council and ensured that the correct WH&S measures were put in place to avoid further unacceptable risk to their workers.