Nov 292006

Let’s take a good close look at this little piece of sleight-of-hand by a corporatised former government instrumentality, and arguably the largest of the Big 4 banks in Australia today.

I believe it was the mid to late 1980’s when the Australian Bank Employees Union, to the consternation of many members of which I was one, surrendered many award benefits the likes of meal money, some overtime provisions and other allowances in exchange for the Big 4, and other financial institutions, granting employees rostered days off. RDO’s in the banking vernacular. In the institution I worked for at the time, we were awared one day each month, or what equated to a 19 day working month. The offset for the ABEU surrendering the benefits I refer to, which I personally never remember voting on, was the provision of suitably trained and adequate relief staff to accommodate absences during RDO’s.

Now, I can’t in all honesty claim that relief staff for RDO’s never materialised, because they did. In fact there was, for a period of time, a cadre of people who would inhabit a particular region of branches specifically for the purposes of providing relief for RDO’s. However, over a short time – less than a year if memory serves – through a process of attrition, promotional prospects, staff transfers and other internal personnel movements, this relief staff cadre atrophied to the point where, while some relief staff might have existed in technical terms, actually gaining access to their services for your own branch RDO relief requirements became a fantasy. In short, RDO’s became a sheer and utter pain in the proverbial both for the person wishing to avail of their RDO, and for those staff working on the particular day having to cover for their missing colleague. No-one likes working short-handed and no-one enjoys coming back to a double workload because industrial legal requirements demanded that each and every award employee take their RDO.

We all tried to avoid taking RDO’s eventually. We tried to ‘bank’ them, allowing them to accumulate rather than place untenable absentee burdens on our staffing requirements. We tried allowing time off in lieu by way of early afternoons but in many cases, these efforts simply didn’t work, and if regional offices discovered you weren’t operating to the letter of the award, castigation followed. In short, Rostered Days Off became an enormous yoke for those meant to benefit from them the most. This due primarily to the employer – the banks themselves – not honouring the essence of the original agreement in providing adequately trained and competent relief staff resources, and secondly, to the stupidity of the union actually believing the employers would honour the agreement, and surrendering pre-existing benefits.

I relate all of the above as a means of portraying the angst suffered by banking industry employees over the RDO issue. Mind you, my experience applies to what was at the time, a Big 4 made up of three private enterprise institutions and one government-owned instrumentality, the latter being governed by an entirely different award. One that was much more beneficial to staff covered than that under which private enterprise employees worked. Now that former government-owned institution plans to lead the way in dispensing with the current regime of collective bargaining. Workchoices, that invidiously anti-union legislation pushed onto the Australian workplace by an ideologically driven government, encourages this dispensation. Australian Workplace Agreements – individual contracts – are becoming more and more the norm because employers can now get away with ignoring previously mutually agreed working arrangements.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia wants, indeed expects its staff to prostitute themselves for a few more pieces of silver. Surrender your RDO’s – which were always better staffed and resourced than the private banks – shift allowances, overtime and penalty rates and we’ll pay you more. Mind you, there is no mention of indexation and why is this? Because this service solicitation, this prostitution proposal is a contract. A carved-in-stone contract. Sure, staff may refuse to prostitute themselves and remain on awards, but they will also surrender any possibility of career advancement and be discriminated against on the basis of their choice. Is this really what Workchoices offers? It seems so. Here’s your choices. Sign this AWA or be left out in the cold insofar as your career aspirations go.

This is a sign of the times, and while I might have railled against RDO’s while working for a bank, and still regard them as a burden without suitable and adequate relief, they are a benefit of an award and process of collective bargaining. Of consensus between worker and employer. This ‘thirty pieces of silver’ approach from the CBA is simply another example of the biased, restrictive, combative workplace environment in Australia today.

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