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.