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CFMEU ordered to stop unprotected action at AGL power plant

THE Fair Work Commission has ordered the CFMEU to cease inciting its members at AGL’s Loy Yang power station to engage in unprotected industrial action including the refusal of overtime and suspected taking of ‘sickies’.

The employer had applied for a stop order under s.418 of the Fair Work Act after showing evidence that unprotected action was occurring.

“We are very pleased that this matter has now been resolved. As the hot weather continues and industry starts up again after the holiday break, demand on the system is going to increase,” AGL Loy Yang General Manager Steve Rieniets said.

“Our priority is to safely and securely meet the electricity needs of our customers and support the security of supply across the NEM.”

The unprotected industrial action was the latest development in more than 18 months of enterprise bargaining at the Victorian site.

It was triggered earlier this month when the employer successfully applied to the FWC to have its expired enterprise agreement terminated, thus returning employees to wages determined by the Modern Award system.

The company told the FWC 30 percent of available staff were calling in sick or were not available for overtime and this meant AGL had only been able to operate at 50 per cent capacity during days of extreme heat across Australia.

The FWC’s stop order is in place for a month and bans the union from “giving any direction, advice or authorisation to the members to ban overtime or restrict work by taking personal and carer’s leave”.

AGL Loy Yang is ‘hopeful’ of reaching a new agreement to give greater certainty and ability “to operate under a more modern agreement facilitating greater flexibility and efficiencies,” Mr Rieniets said.

During negotiations, union members have twice rejected pay rises of more than 20 per cent and preservation of work benefits.

Read the stop order here.

Implications for members

Despite being subject to losses and damages as a result of unprotected industrial action, this case further demonstrates that in the current economic environment, employers can be successful in having expired enterprise agreements terminated by the Fair Work Commission in instances of protracted bargaining.

Regarding the s.418 application, it is important to note that the employer’s initial application in this case was rejected on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence for the Commission to find that unprotected action was occurring.

However on the employer’s second application this was found and a stop order was issued. This demonstrates the importance of meticulously recording evidence that unprotected action may be occurring and to present such evidence in reoccurring applications until that action is stopped.

For advice on enterprise bargaining, managing industrial action or any other workplace relations matter, contact your local AREEA office.

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