The Guardian January 29, 2003


Grocon comes to the negotiating table

Grocon's major projects in Melbourne resumed normal operation on January 
22, following an agreement reached the day before between officials of the 
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and company 
executives. CFMEU State Secretary Martin Kingham and Grocon's joint 
managing director Daniel Grollo said talks had staved off industrial action 
by the union and a possible shutdown of major projects in Melbourne worth 
$2 billion.

The threatened action was in relation to the negotiation of a new 
enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) with Grocon. According to the CFMEU, 
one of the principle areas of disagreement is hours of work. Grocon wants 
to be able to work their employees unlimited hours and to buy out rostered 
days off, annual leave and sick leave.

The company had attempted to exclude the union from the process and deal 
directly with its 650 employees. However, in a vote late last year, brought 
on by Grocon (under section 170LK of the Workplace Relations Act, workers 
overwhelmingly rejected the company's approach, preferring to be 
represented by their union.

The planned stoppages were in relation to the negotiation of a new 
enterprise agreement.

"The parties have created the right climate to allow negotiations for a new 
Enterprise Bargaining Agreement based on industry principles to be 
completed within a reasonable period of time", Mr Kingham and Mr Grollo 
said in a joint statement.

"Our agreement involves the withdrawal of threats of industrial action on 
one hand and, on the other, putting on hold all pending legal action 
against the union and its officials."

Grocon is pursuing damages claims in the Supreme Court against several 
union officials over to two 48-hour strikes at major sites in Melbourne 
last year.

"Both parties have declared their commitment to this process and we're 
hopeful of a satisfactory outcome", joint statement concluded.

Abbott behind Grollo

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has admitted holding meetings with 
Mr Grollo when the company plotted to use the Workplace Relations Act to 
sideline the CFMEU.

His plan, openly supported by Abbott, involved an early-morning mass 
meeting on December 19. CFMEU representatives were barred. Workers, 
surrounded by up to 200 salaried staff not be covered by the negotiations, 
were asked to vote on a Section 170LK agreement to which their union would 
not be a party.

The carrot-and-stick case put by Grollo included additional leave 
inducements and a warning that rejection would jeopardise employment.

The way Grocon counted its ballot suggests elements of a Patrick-style 
exercise. It seems that workers had been transferred from one company to 
another without their knowledge or agreement.

Despite being listed on IBIS's World Company Profiles as a company with "no 
subsidiaries", Grocon divided ballot results amongst five separate entities 
and, just minutes after the meeting, put out a press release announcing 
"100 per cent" support for its proposition at one of those "companies".

It was later revealed that this referred to a 2-0 vote of staff at 
something called Grocon PL.

It remains to be seen whether Grocon will seriously negotiate with the 
building unions and cancel the pending legal action or whether the dispute 
is only the beginning of a bigger political exercise to shut the unions out 
of major building sites.

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