ETU members at Wagga’s water supply authority Riverina Water took the fight up to council management during recent enterprise award negotiations by flexing their industrial muscle through industrial action. For the first time in living memory workers at Riverina Water had to resort to work bans and limitations to advance their wage claims which became bogged down by an obstinate and sometimes hamstrung management team. Long-time ETU delegate Andrew Clarke along with ETU Organiser Matt McCann led the negotiations on behalf of the Electricians, with Andrew playing a vital role in providing support and valuable background information through the process.
Negotiations commenced in late 2015 and involved other unions including the USU and LGEA. After many protracted and often laborious meetings the workers came to the conclusion in May this year that what was needed was a bit of old fashioned industrial argy bargy. In a refreshing change for the ETU Organiser the workers were able to rely on the tried and tested method of taking industrial action. A meeting was held, a report was given and the decision by the majority to take industrial action was made. No need for protected action ballots in this case as the workers are covered by NSW state industrial laws.
The council tried to ride out the overtime and on-call bans by pressuring some of the LGEA members to hold the fort so to speak. Whilst it was unfortunate that LGEA members were reluctant to participate in the industrial action, they did remain solid by not covering the call outs etc.
The attempt to ride it out by council blew up in their face big time after a water main burst over the weekend that ended up costing council a hell of a lot more money that they were trying penny pinch off the workers. With little choice available to the council after the workers escalated the industrial action the following week to introduce “wild cat” bans, we were in front of Commissioner Tabbaa in the NSW IRC who saw through the lame arguments put by the Local Government Association as to why we got to where we were. A conciliation process was entered into which saw a vastly improved offer put to the workers and whilst it was marginally short of the preferred outcome, it was finally accepted by the majority.
“We were originally stuck a fair way from where we wanted to be in regards to a wage outcome and if it wasn’t for the efforts of the blokes in taking a stand we would still be talking the legs off the chairs”. McCann said.
The final outcome saw the council eventually agree to roll over the existing agreement with a 2.8% wage increase in year 1 and 2.5% each year after that. The important thing was to lock in the existing conditions as council had sought a number of things back in this agreement and were negotiated and earned through previous award negotiations.