WorkChoices bites aged care

Court action to stop phoney `agreement`

The NSWNA has launched legal action in the Federal Court against an ‘employer greenfield agreement’ introduced at Willowood Nursing Home in Sydney.

Employer greenfield agreements are widely acknowledged as one of the most controversial and noxious elements of the Howard government’s IR laws.

They allow employers to bypass any negotiations with employees and their representatives and unilaterally set wages and conditions in a workplace prior to the opening date (see box).

They are, theoretically, limited to covering ‘new businesses’.

Willowood Nursing Home in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood had operated under the nurses’ award for many years when it closed in 2005 for 18 months for renovations. Nurses and other staff were redeployed to other facilities during the renovations.

Moira Devlin, who has worked at Willowood for more than 10 years as an AiN, says management assured staff they would have their existing jobs and conditions when they came back. Nothing would change.

‘That wasn’t to be,’ Moira said.

When Willowood reopened in August 2006, the employer – Columbia Aged Care Services – without consultation, changed all working conditions of nurses and other staff, reduced penalty rates and stripped a host of other award conditions under the guise of an ‘employer greenfield agreement’ – all of which meant lower pay.

‘When we came back we were called ‘Columbia Lifestyle Officers’ and not only did nursing but had other duties like cleaning and working in the kitchen,’ said Moira.

‘The DON justified the new responsibilities and pay and conditions by saying it was a new place, even though the facility was on the same site, had the same name, the same ABN number, the same residents and the same staff.’

After pressure from the NSWNA, Columbia increased the rate of pay but a host of conditions and penalties were still excluded from the agreement.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the attempt by Columbia to call Willowood a new business is a fiction and the Association will fight it vigorously.

‘The Association met with Columbia several times to express our concerns about the agreement and request that the company enter into negotiations to right the wrongs by developing a new, fairer union collective agreement. Columbia made a change to the pay-rate but have left the sub-standard greenfields agreement in place,’ he said.

‘We have started legal action in the Federal Court because we have received legal advice which says Columbia acted illegally.’

Columbia, which has been in business for more than 35 years, owns five aged care facilities in NSW: Strathdale, Rosedale, Mayfair, and Parkland, in addition to Willowood.

Under WorkChoices, the Nursing Home Nurses’ Award has been frozen and the NSWNA has concerns that Columbia will attempt to extend sub-standard conditions in the Willowood agreement to their other facilities.

‘Nurses working in these facilities will need to be vigilant and organised to maintain their current pay and conditions,’ said Brett Holmes.

What is an employer greenfield agreement?

  • An employer greenfield agreement, introduced by the Howard government as part of its new IR laws, allows employers to set work conditions in any new business without negotiations with employees or unions before the new business opens and takes on any employees.
  • Employer greenfield agreements effectively allow employers to negotiate with themselves the terms and conditions of their workers.
  • an estimated 14,400 Australian workers have been put on an employer greenfield agreement since the new IR laws were introduced.
  • 68% of these agreements eradicate workers’ protected award conditions.
  • 75% provide no specified wage increases for workers.
  • an ‘employer greenfield agreement’ is not to be confused with another type of agreement called ‘union greenfield agreement’, in which a union has negotiating rights and is a party on behalf of the workers.

How Willowood attacked pay and conditions

  • Pay rates in the Willowood greenfield agreement are less than the Nursing Home Nurses’ Award when conditions that have been abolished like uniform, laundry and in-charge of shift allowances are factored in.
  • Penalty rates have been significantly reduced eg. Sunday morning shift has been reduced from 75% to 35%.
  • Leave provisions have been reduced with leave calculated on the contract hours rather than the hours actually worked.
  • Additional annual leave for working public holidays and Sundays has been totally abolished.
  • The August bank holiday for nurses has been abolished.
  • Accelerated long service leave for long-standing employees over 15 years has been abolished.