Veolia in hot water

Veolia Transport’s Queensland division lands in hot water after issuing misleading staff bulletins questioning the legality of a protected TWU strike

Veolia in hot water
Veolia in hot water

Brad Gardner | August 30, 2011

Protracted enterprise agreement negotiations between Veolia Transport and the Transport Workers Union have taken another turn, after the company found itself in hot water for misleading its union-affiliated workforce.

Fair Work Australia has chided the public transport company’s Queensland division, which issued staff bulletins to its bus drivers questioning the legality of an impending strike.

Veolia and the TWU have held 27 meetings since November last year to try and hammer out a new agreement to replace the one that expired on December 31, 2010.

The bulletins were issued in the lead-up to a protected strike, leading to union threats of legal action if they were not corrected. The TWU claimed the bulletins caused confusion among members and prompted some to skip the industrial action.

Commissioner Ingrid Asbury says Veolia failed to bargain in good faith and that its actions were intended to discourage employees from participating.

But while she accepted employers can communicate directly with staff to discourage them from striking, Asbury says they cannot issue incorrect or ambiguous statements about the rights of employees.

"An employer engaging in such conduct runs a risk of infringing the provisions of the [Fair Work] Act dealing with good faith bargaining. The same could be said of any bargaining representative who publishes such statements in relation to the rights and obligations of participants it represents, or other participants in the bargaining process," Asbury says.

While saying Veolia did not intentionally intend to mislead its employees or misrepresent their rights, Asbury says its actions caused uncertainty about the right of TWU members to take protected industrial action.

"The statements were made in a period of three days prior to the industrial action notified by the TWU and the last of those statements was issued on the afternoon before the proposed industrial action was due to commence," she says.

As well upholding the TWU’s claim that Veolia had not bargained in good faith, Asbury also ordered the company not to send a proposed agreement to ballot until at least next month.

The bulletins were left with individual drivers and placed throughout Veolia’s Capalaba depot, east of Brisbane. The TWU organised a four-hour stoppage on August 12, and union delegate Andrew Kerridge sent a text to members stating: "Veolia claims the action on Friday is unlawful. Thats [sic] CRAP. Your action is PROTECTED, and LAWFUL. Meet at 6.00am Koala Pub as planned. Come and have your say."

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