Kruger reaches out as ballots lob with Toll workers

Toll boss contacts employees directly on enterprise agreement negotiations, as ballots on industrial action are sent out today

Kruger reaches out as ballots lob with Toll workers
Kruger reaches out as ballots lob with Toll workers
By Brad Gardner | July 22, 2013

Toll Managing Director Brian Kruger has reached out directly to his workers as they prepare to vote on whether to wage industrial action as part of enterprise agreement negotiations.

In Toll’s latest push to swing employee support toward its proposed agreement, Kruger has penned a letter outlining the company’s offer and warning that the Transport Workers Union’s (TWU) demands "will create an unacceptable risk to the competitiveness of our business".

The TWU and Toll cannot agree on a number of issues, ranging from wages and superannuation to site rates and the process for auditing contractors.

The union was granted approval to ask Toll’s workforce if it was prepared to strike, and ballots are being distributed from today for a vote that will close on August 5.

Kruger’s letter flags the possibility of the company holding its own ballot to ask workers if they support Toll’s offer and follows a brief document Toll General Manager of Industrial Relations Tony Wilks recently handed out to workers.

"The stakes are high for Toll as a company, for our customers and for you as an employee. Accordingly, I felt a need to contact you directly," Kruger’s letter states.

"The TWU is talking about protecting jobs. So are we. It is a very fine balance, but we know our competitive position is threatened if we were to concede the full TWU claim."

Kruger’s letter details the company’s 15 percent wage increase over four years, along with an immediate superannuation increase to 12.25 percent and new leave provisions for employees affected by natural disasters. The TWU wants a 16 percent wage increase, superannuation to reach 15 percent by the end of the agreement and for employees and contractors to receive the same rates.

Kruger's letter claims the company's offer guarantees Toll employees will continue to be among the highest paid workers in the transport industry.

He has also refuted union accusations Toll wants to set up separate business units and put workers on agreements with lower terms, conditions and safety standards.

"Some parts of our business do have different terms and conditions that allow them to compete effectively in the market in which they are operating. Those businesses have safety records that are among the best of all of our businesses," he says.

"We have no intention of moving large numbers of jobs that have traditionally been covered by our agreement with the TWU to other businesses covered by other unions. This has not happened in the past and will not happen in the future."

While Kruger’s letter says Toll’s offer is "fair and reasonable", TWU National Assistant Secretary Michael Kaine has labelled it a backward step that, if implemented, will undermine years of union efforts to lift wages and conditions.

Kaine says Toll’s offer will effectively lock the union out of being involved in auditing Toll's sub-contractors to ensure they offer acceptable rates and conditions to their workers.

Under the existing enterprise agreement, Kaine says TWU representatives receive a list of contractors Toll uses and are then able to raise any concerns they may have with particular companies. Kaine says the TWU then works with Toll to rectify any issues.

"It meant the company had the benefit of workers across the country being able to give them feedback in a structured way about the fleet operators that they told the union they were using," he says.

"We’ve had good processes that have developed over a decade now with Toll that have worked really well for us to have some confidence about their supply chain and the company indicated at the outset of negotiations that it essentially wanted those to go."

Toll has pledged to its workforce it will audit the performance of its contractors, but Kaine is adamant the union must be involved.

"We need to be in there. We’ve shown good partnership with them about this in the past. They haven’t given us any reason that partnership hasn’t worked or is something that is causing them great angst," Kaine says.

The TWU is also digging in on site rates, which exist in New South Wales. Unlike Toll, the union wants site rates applied nationwide. It says doing so will encourage Toll to use outside labour as a last resort.

Contractors outside of NSW are currently paid 7.5 percent above the award rate, and Kaine claims Toll is reneging on a deal made previously to apply the NSW model throughout the country.

He labelled as "misleading" the notice Wilks sent to staff because it did not mention the company’s stance on site rates and its proposed changes to audits of contractors.

"He didn’t raise that and that means workers aren’t aware of the ways they are going to go backwards," Kaine says.

Kruger’s letter touches on the union’s pursuit of site rates, arguing that increasing payments to contractors will lead to Toll paying rates significantly higher than what its competitors pay.

The ballots sent to Toll employees ask if they support strikes for periods between one and 72 hours, and bans on overtime, paperwork, higher duties, call backs and working with contractors.

Negotiations between the TWU and Toll are ongoing, with meetings scheduled for this week. In his letter, Kruger says Toll is negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement.

"We want the TWU to continue the bargaining process without recourse to unnecessary industrial action, which has the potential to be very harmful to the interests of our customers, to our business and our employees," he says.

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