“This vote was neither open nor transparent and we have serious concerns as to whether it was a secret ballot. Low paid staff were forced to vote over Easter weekend with minimal notice. They were offered a paltry one-off payment of 5% increase in pay which will put their wages below inflation over the four-year lifetime of this agreement. This is typical behaviour from Aerocare which also forces staff onto appalling conditions, such as sleeping at airports between split shifts,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
“What employee votes to be paid below the poverty line? It is clear that a culture of fear and intimidation exists inside Aerocare,” he added.
Aerocare admitted in a letter* to trade unions that the vote would be conducted on the internal online system with “no scrutineers”. This is in contrast to other aviation companies which hire independent outside firms to conduct ballots. The TWU therefore has serious concerns that the Aerocare vote was not a secret ballot.
The union also received reports that managers were forced to get any employees expressing concerns about the enterprise agreement onside ahead of the vote.
The ballot result follows revelations about appalling working conditions at Aerocare where low-paid staff are forced to sleep at the airport between split shifts. Aerocare has attempted to cover-up the damning expose. Aerocare claimed the Australian Border Force (ABF) worked “in parallel” with the company on an investigation into sleeping areas at Sydney Airport. However, the ABF told the TWU it “has not conducted an investigation into this matter and has had no direct communication with Aerocare on this topic”.
Staff at Aerocare have among the worst conditions in the aviation ground-handling industry. It allows for split shifts, which is specifically excluded under the award. The shifts mean staff can spend upwards of 14 hours per day at the airport while they are paid for just six or seven hours. Employees are guaranteed just 60 hours a month, with no weekly guarantee. Aerocare employees are paid reduced penalty rates at weekends, for night work and over-time.
The new agreement will continue to give staff a guarantee of no more than 60 hours a month and below award rates. This puts a couple with two children more than $2000 below the poverty line**.
* Letter from Aerocare consultants First IR*** on the ballot process: http://bit.ly/AerocareBallotProcess
** With 60 hours guaranteed a month Aerocare workers earn between $1200 and $1400 a month, depending on their classification. The monthly poverty line is $1704 for a single person and $3580 for a couple with two children, according to Poverty in Australia Report 2016, by the Australian Council of Social Services, in collaboration with the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW.
*** Background to First IR, Aerocare workplace relations consultants
Set up in 1988 First IR is a workplace relations consultancy which lists on its website among its achievements:
- “Successfully argued on public interest grounds to secure approval of several EAs that failed the better of overall test”
- “Won approval of non-union EBA for Australia’s largest airport ground handling company”
In a newsletter put out in March 2015, First IR highlighted a case, where “telling the truth had unintended negative consequences for a company when it openly said on being approached by unions to bargain, that it didn’t want an agreement”. The company was forced by Fair Work Commission to negotiate an enterprise agreement. First IR said of the case: “this case highlights the need for care, and a little planning, where an employer has a strong preference for avoiding enterprise bargaining”.