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Council depot closes as industrial action bites

As voting opens for a new pay deal, outdoor workers are holding out for a $50 per week increase

A scene from an earlier protest outside Brunswick Town Hall on May 4.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, June 2, 2022

MORELAND Council’s depot was closed by industrial action on Thursday as members of a breakaway union vented their opposition to a new pay deal. 

About 130 workers who are members of the Municipal & Utilities Workers Union went on strike for 24 hours as voting opened to approve the new enterprise bargaining agreement. 

MUWU spokesman Brian Parkinson said the industrial action forced the cancellation of all council outdoor operations on Thursday and had a side effect of also preventing services such as a senior citizens bus from operating. 

Mr Parkinson said MUWU members had taken action over a “shit deal” that is likely to be voted up by the other two main unions at Moreland, the Australian Services Union and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. 

But the ASU countered by warning its members to be wary of anonymous text messages recommending they vote no to the deal.

The united front between the three unions shattered late last month. 

Mr Parkinson said the pay offer sold members short as it would not keep pace with inflation over the next few years. 

MUWU members had been seeking a flat $50 a week pay rise to combat rising living costs and Mr Parkinson said the union had recommended a no vote. 

“The council are trying to coerce everyone to get the agreement up, but it’s a shit deal,” Mr Parkinson said. 

“The ASU have agreed to it… but we’re still having a crack. At the end of the day, if we win [the vote] we’re back at the table, and even if they knock us off in the vote, we will be opposing it in the [Fair Work] Commission.” 

MUWU members called off three days of industrial action late last month in the hope of further negotiations. Council employees, including clerical staff and library workers, also stopped work on May 4 in an escalation that brought chief executive Cathy Henderson to the negotiating table. 

In a statement posted on its website, Moreland City Council said the industrial action would impact on rubbish collection services in the north of the municipality and to the collection of waste from public bins throughout the city. 

Drainage works, roads maintenance and tree maintenance services would also be affected on Thursday and those services would only take place in the event of an emergency. 

The ASU, which represents the majority of council employees, is recommending a yes vote. On Thursday, it warned members about anonymous text messages that had been sent recommending they vote against the deal.

“These are NOT from the ASU and do not reflect the views of our bargaining representatives or members,” the union said.

When ASU members met last month to review the offer, over 85% were in favour. ANMF members also voted unanimously to support it. 

According to the ASU, the final offer from the council would deliver a 6% or $42 per week pay rise for the lowest paid workers, plus back pay to July last year, and an additional 2.1% from next month. 

In a bulletin to members on Wednesday, the ASU said a no vote would result in protracted industrial action.

“There are some suggesting voting no, but we are not aware of any strategy around how they plan to achieve their claims,” it said. “In contrast, the ASU achieved significant results in every key claim we sought and negotiated a pay increase that supports ALL lower paid workers at Moreland Council, not just some.”

But Mr Parkinson said the offer was inadequate, and MUWU members were continuing to seek a $50 per week pay rise this year. 

The formal vote began on Wednesday and is open for a week.  

The MUWU has been formed by disgruntled former members and staff of the ASU. It was established in 2019 and has been backed by controversial CFMEU state secretary John Setka. 

Related story:

Peace deal on the horizon in council pay dispute

Disclaimer: the author is a member of the MEAA and the ASU.