Finance Work Fair Work scuttles below-award pay deal for airport workers

Fair Work scuttles below-award pay deal for airport workers

Airport workers.
Airport workers would have been disadvantaged by a new agreement. Photo: Getty
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The controversy over award conditions and penalty rates has been heightened this week with the Fair Work Commission throwing out an enterprise agreement made between transport workers and airport service company Aeorcare because it cut pay and conditions.

The FWC scrapped the agreement, made between the company and its workforce because it did not meet the better off overall test (BOOT) because of low hourly payment rates and split shifts, which are precluded under the award.

Aerocare hit the headlines in March when media outlets reported safety concerns expressed by its workers and detailed workers making sleeping nests behind the baggage carousel to cope with breaks of up to six hours in split shifts.

The Transport Workers Union, which represents much of the Aerocare workforce, said its analysis of the agreement found:

  • One employee working an average of 37 hours per week will be paid $3,901 per month which is $1,129 below the award
  •  One employee working an average of 32 hours per week will be paid $3,240 per month which is $590 below the award

“Overall it would have paid many employees as much as $1,100 a month under the award.” the TWU said in  a statement.

The agreement could have resulted in ground-handling staff having to stay at airports between shifts to avoid the cost of commuting, with some spending 16 hours straight at work, while only working six hours.

Dr Robin Price, an industrial relations specialist at CQ University in Brisbane, said “the agreement did not pass the BOOT. Employers want to reduce penalty rates and this agreement did that on Sundays and some public holidays.”

Some classifications of workers would have received Sunday payments as much as 19 per cent below the awards and 27 per cent below Monday to Friday payments, the FWC decision detailed.

The FWC also found that “in this case not all employees got the opportunity to vote,” Dr Price said. The FWC observed that casual employees were not able to vote on the agreement. 

It also said the “most but not all employers are worse off when working Sundays, Good Fridays and Christmas Day”.

The decision highlights a change in the FWC approach to enterprise agreements that emerged last year when a student working part time at Coles in Brisbane challenged an agreement made by the retailer with its union because a cut in penalty rates had left him personally worse off. The commission agreed, saying a penalty rate cut had left a substantial number of workers worse off.

“That caused consternation with a lot of employers”, because till then it was assumed that if the majority of workers were better off. ” It was appealed and went to the full bench which said ‘everyone had to be better off,'” said Professor John Howe, of Melbourne University’s law school.

“Since then  more attention has been given to detail on BOOT by the commission,” Professor Howe said.