Rank and file oppose Australia Post agreement
Workers in Australia Post are voting on a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, which covers most postal workers, supports the agreement and is currently touring workplaces with management to sell the deal. The Australia Post Rank and File group has been campaigning for rejection of the agreement. Green Left Weekly's MAUREEN BAKER spoke to Rank and File activist JOHN McGILL, who works at the Adelaide Mail Centre.
Question: Why are you campaigning against this EBA?
For a start the pay rise is not enough. We have been offered 8% over 26 months, but we've been negotiating for a year already without any increase. The GST is likely to come in sometime during this agreement: then all our money is going to be worth 10% less.
We believe that this is really pathetic. We could do a whole lot better.
There are also bonus elements based on productivity, taking less sick leave and improving our "lifestyle". Some mail sorters are being offered extra pay for being good "team" members.
This EBA will open AP to massive recruitment of part-time and casual staff, to the detriment of full-time workers. New workers could be on fixed-term contracts for long periods. The agreement allows AP to employ people on a casual basis for up to two years. AP would also be able to contract out work that is currently done by permanent staff.
Also, the agreement says AP "may enter into an Australian Workplace Agreement with any staff member covered by this agreement". It'll be pressuring people into individual contracts.
R&F are particularly disturbed with the way the union has negotiated this agreement. In over a year of negotiations, our officials have never consulted with members. All the members hear from them is that the management has gone "feral", no longer behaving nicely, as they did when the ALP was in power.
During the bargaining period it's been legal for us to take industrial action. AP, particularly in the mail centres and delivery centres, is almost 100% unionised. Yet the leadership seem frightened to use that strength.
Question: So this is a campaign not only against management, but also against the union officials?
Yes, but it's not against the union. There are elections in June and the R&F will be running candidates in most states against the current leadership and the weak way they run this union. We want a militant union that informs and involves its members. The current leadership has sold us out.
Question: What other strategies are you using?
In Adelaide we have R&F meetings once a week. From those meetings we get a newsletter out at least once a month that informs members of what the meetings are about and what is wrong with the way the union's being run and that tries to involve the membership in their union. The leadership complain about the apathy of the membership. We believe that apathy is a direct result of poor leadership.
Question: What sort of response are you getting from the members?
We've had a good response, with cash donations, numerous phone calls and meeting attendance. In Victoria the R&F, in coalition with some dissident ALP types, have control of the branch committee of management (BCOM); they are against the EBA. The NSW branch have also come out against it. There's a very good chance this EBA will be rejected.
We believe that with a militant, strong campaign, we can win more positions and start turning this union around.
Question: How are the union officials reacting?
In South Australia branch secretary Noel Paul is reported to be quite nervous about this. He put out a newsletter saying forces outside the union were trying to create trouble.
In Victoria, the leadership has been playing bureaucratic tricks to try to stop legitimate BCOM decisions being implemented. The BCOM has had to take the secretary, Jim Tudehope, to court on at least two occasions to get him to carry out the democratic decisions of the committee.
Question: What would you like to see in the EBA?
Job security and a decent pay rise. If there's the opportunity for less hours to be worked, then we're quite happy to work less hours, but with no loss in pay. We believe hours should be shared equally among all the workers employed by AP.
Question: Why are the union bureaucrats afraid to use the strength of the members?
I think it's partly because they've been around through 13 years of the ALP Accord. They just don't know how to take action any more.
I would have thought they would have got the message that the union needs to fight management and not just talk with them. These leaders seem frightened to make any move that would upset management or the ALP.