FREMANTLE council’s depot workers walked off the job on Thursday morning over a protracted workplace agreement dispute.
Around 70 members of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, and the Local Government Racing and Cemeteries Employees Union held a barbecue protest outside the Knutsford Street depot in support of the workers, who want a provision which allows the council to stand them down in tough times to be taken out of the agreement.
When Covid hit earlier this year, the council used that provision to stand down 60 staff – many from the depot – telling them they’d have to use up their annual leave then fend for themselves. Some were told to apply for the dole.
But technically still employed, they couldn’t get Jobseeker payments and the union says many were plunged into despair.
CFMEU organiser Brad Upton told the Herald the union would be targeting mayor Brad Pettitt’s state election campaign as part of their protest.
Mr Upton said while the mayor had tried to distance himself from the dispute on the grounds it was overstepping his jurisdiction, they would be “using his own words from his campaign” to prove otherwise.
“He’s going to be squirming when he sees it later today,” Mr Upton said.
Mr Upton said the depot staff hadn’t received a pay rise in two and a half years while waiting for the workplace agreement to be approved.
But Dr Pettitt said councillors had been given “clear and categorical legal advice” that it would be unlawful for councillors to step in and direct the CEO over the negotiations.
“I find it extraordinary that the ALP-affiliated CFMEU would pressure me to behave unlawfully.
“While I respect their desire to change a clause – a clause that the CFMEU previously supported and was voted for by union members – targeting me personally is not an effective way of doing this given I am unable to act.
“They need to sit down and negotiate with the CEO and if need be have it mediated via the Fair Work Commission.
“I understand that the CEO has put a modified clause on the table as a way forward.”
At the council’s last meeting of the year on December 10, Hilton warder Sam Wainwright – an avowed unionist –attempted to put up a resolution calling for a fairer deal for staff being stood down, only to be shot down by the same legal advice.
Cr Wainwright’s motion called for stand-downs to be pegged to the provisions of the Fair Work Act, but he was trumped by a “dismissal motion” from CEO Philip St John.
Cr Wainwright told the Herald he and former councillor, now federal MP Josh Wilson, had previously put up a “workplace values” resolution in 2010 which was “far more extensive” than his current attempt to dabble in staffing matters – and it got up.
The Herald understands it’s the recent updating of the Local Government Act which has firmed up the separation between the admin and councillors. But Cr Wainwright says if that’s the case, then premier Mark McGowan was pretty rough criticising the council’s stand downs earlier this year when it was his own legislation which prevented councillors from stepping in.