Liftoff: victories pile up as lift campaign marches on

In the waning weeks of 2018, ETU members and AMWU members voted up yet another outstanding EBA in the lift industry. 

The ongoing round of EBA negotiations across the various lift companies in Victoria kicked off in March 2018 at an historic mass meeting attended by over 500 ETU and AMWU members. Previous decades had seen lift industry sparkies falling further and further behind their counterparts in the contracting industry and the ETU declared no more. “These companies are multinational giants with revenue in the billions, it makes no sense that they are paying lower wages than small electrical contracting companies in Victoria who are signed up to our pattern agreement,” stated ETU Lift Industry Organiser, Steve Diston. “We will not let them use their vast financial resources to pay less than the going rate within fortress Victoria”. 

While the campaign remains ongoing, it has been marked by some great victories for our union with the two biggest players in town, first Schindler and now Kone, falling in to line. At the time of printing this magazine, OTIS was also very close to being resolved.

As was the case with Schindler, the major hurdle to clear were the low rates of pay for Kone electricians. The minimum rate of pay at Kone is a mere $46.79 per hour, well below the ETU Contracting EBA rate. Some employees were on special deals for much higher rates of pay, yet 90% of the workforce were being paid below the industry standard the union’s Contracting EBA set. 

“If an employer is doing a lot of special deals with workers above the EBA rate then it means the hourly rate of the EBA is too low or there are not enough classifications in the EBA to show the different nature of work being performed in the workplace with some people being paid more than others,” said ETU Organiser, Steve Diston. “We don’t join unions to enrich the top 10% of the workforce, we join unions to make everyone better off.”

The workforce banded together to ensure everyone was better off. They signed off on a new wage table that would create new categories of work and deliver massive pay rises to the lower paid workers. 

While negotiations with the company were ongoing the union uncovered that, as it was with Schindler, Kone had been underpaying their apprentices to the tune of approximately $250,000! While Schindler did the right thing when it was pointed out, Kone took to the Fair Work Commission to try and avoid the back payment. After a fiery exchange in the Commission, the union walked away with the win and secured the back pay for Kone apprentices.

Kone had no income protection as part of their existing agreement. Instead, Kone had “extended sick leave” which in reality meant Kone could sack a worker after 3 months off on injury, leaving them high and dry. In the new EBA, Kone employees will have real income protection just like tens of thousands of other union members across Victoria.

The final battle was the workers’ redundancy fund. Rather than being managed by a trusted provider, Kone was managing the entitlement fund themselves and making a tidy profit out of it. It became very apparent not all was as it seemed with this fund. We asked questions and there were no answers forthcoming about how millions of dollars of our members' money was held. Continued refusal led to the union having Gordon Legal make an application to court and engaging a forensic accountant to get to the bottom of the issue. 

On the 20th of November the union held a ballot for protected industrial action at Kone. It came back strong and on the morning of December 6th it was on. However, rather than use our resources  taking action on construction sites we targeted the service side of the business.

Service contracts are long term reliable revenue streams with more consistency than construction work. Many of the client sites that these lift companies service see themselves as prestigious, glamourous institutions. 

We took advantage of that and marched 200 blokes around their foyers with whistles and airhorns chanting about Kone elevators. These fancy client sites did not enjoy that, nor did they enjoy a 5 metre high Scabby the Rat outside their front entrances.

The Kone EBA was voted up on the December 12th. Electricians who were on the current minimum rate of pay of $46.79 per hour will be entitled to $58.50 per hour by the end of the agreement – a 25% increase, and it has significantly improved workplace conditions. But as Troy Gray, ETU Victoria’s Secretary pointed out, "the reality is we never would have received such massive gains out of Kone if the workers had not stood together and taken action.” Kone wanted to put up a fight, we gave them one, and we won.

As this magazine went to print, OTIS, the next in line saw our success at Schindler and Kone and came to the table. As we print this magazine 200 OTIS employees have voted in principle to secure the new industry rates already achieved at Schindler and Kone with negotiations at TKE to start imminently.