Transport workers' strike approved before talks

Release date: 10/12/2010

Workers at the centre of an important Fair Work Australia case have won the right to take indefinite strike action from next week.

Ewin Hannan and Joe Kelly, The Australia

The Australian Electoral Commission yesterday declared the result of a ballot in which union members at waste management business JJ Richards & Sons voted in favour of industrial action.

Employers groups are seeking to overturn the original ruling that approved the holding of the ballot, with a decision on their appeal expected next Tuesday.

The Transport Workers Union won the right to proceed to the ballot after the company refused to enter into negotiations for a new enterprise agreement. But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said employees had voted to strike in circumstances where the nature of the union's claim had not been made known to the employer.

"It seems to be a bizarre sequence of events," the chamber's workplace policy director David Gregory said.

The union's federal secretary, Tony Sheldon, said the company had refused to bargain with its workforce.

"The workforce said they wanted the company to make an offer about wages," he said.

"The company has said, 'There is no point talking to us, we will not under any circumstances pay more than the award rate'."

He said if the employer group's appeal succeeded, no employer would have to bargain with their employees and no worker would have access to retaliatory strike action.

Ten employees voted in the ballot, with nine supporting a range of actions against the company.

The decision came as the Gillard government defended its workplace laws as a key driver of productivity and rejected calls to change the Fair Work Act.

A day after Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks said that industrial relations regulation should not promote fairness in the workplace at the expense of productivity improvements, Senator Evans all but ruled out making changes to the current system.

He defended the Fair Work Act as a "remarkable achievement that has been well received by business around the country" and "an important component of the government's productivity agenda".

Read it on the Australian website

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