The Guardian June 26, 2002


Union fights Suncorp to save staff conditions

by Janice Hamilton

Up to 3000 GIO Australia staff absorbed by Suncorp-Metway face changed 
working hours, loss of overtime pay, sick leave and other entitlements in a 
bid by the company to get rid of union involvement. The Finance Sector 
Union (FSU) is fighting Suncorp-Metway in the Australian Industrial 
Relations Commission where the insurance giant is trying to transfer 110 
new GIO staff in its Queensland based offices to an existing company 
agreement.

This agreement would require the employees to work longer hours before 
receiving overtime. It would also reduce their sick leave, retrenchment 
pay, long service leave and the number of paid rest breaks.

GIO employees who previously worked between 7am and 8pm Monday to Friday 
could be required to work "any day of the week, and at any hour of the day" 
under the company plan.

If the Queensland based company wins, it would be in a strong position to 
force the agreement on the other 2900 GIO staff across Australia who have 
been absorbed by the company since its takeover of GIO in June last year.

The FSU believes that it is a matter of "transmission of business" and 
hence the company is required to keep employees on their present 
entitlements. The union's National Secretary Tony Beck said that Suncorp-
Metway is trying to circumvent the existing entitlements of former GIO 
staff who would continue to do the same work.

Suncorp-Metway has been pursuing a 15-year strategy of seeking to eliminate 
union involvement and put staff on reduced working conditions.

Mr Beck said, "a dispute over workers' rights and the managerial 
prerogative is at the heart of the battle." Suncorp-Metway wants to wear 
down workers' conditions so that it has complete control over working hours 
and re-deployment in company branches. Existing consultation provisions 
would cease to exist.

The Suncorp-Metway case is one of the most recent examples of "transmission 
of business" (when one company takes over another) disputes in which 
employers have sought to decrease staff pay and conditions.

Stellar Call Centres, whose staff were previously employed by Telstra, 
Dandenong City Council in Victoria are two other recent examples where 
employers have tried to use a change in ownership to attack employees' hard 
won gains. Staff at St George Bank in Byron Bay lost their conditions when 
a chemist opened up a bank agency business.

Meanwhile Suncorp-Metway is crying poor after its share price plummeted by 
almost 20 per cent and , blaming it on the $1.2 billion acquisition of GIO 
and increased damages verdicts in public liability cases.

Retiring Chief Executive Officer John Lamble said that premium rises 
represented a "catch-up" on the large claims made in recent years as the 
legal system had got "way out of line".

In the treatment of former GIO employees it is obvious who is out of line. 
Mr Lamble's Suncorp-Metway.

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