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.