Brisbane Council backs down on rosters

A three-week lockout of Brisbane City Council electricians has ended with a win for union members. Agreeing to the electricians’ main demand, the council has dropped a “flexible” rostering proposal from its enterprise agreement offer.

On 26 May, 25 of the council’s 30 electricians began taking minor industrial action over the new rostering system, which would have removed workers’ right to choose whether to work night, weekend or on-call shifts. In retaliation, management locked them out.

The locked-out workers received the news of management’s backdown at lunchtime on 13 June, just 24 hours before around 180 bus mechanics, members of the AMWU, were to start a four-hour stoppage. Pressure had been mounting on the council from all quarters, including, according to reports, from people who live near the council depot where workers had set up a protest. The regular supporting honks of passers-by had resulted in numerous local residents contacting the council to complain about its lockout.

The electricians’ actions are a big win for the 5,000 workers employed by the council, all of whom are currently bargaining for a new agreement.

One of the locked-out electricians told Red Flag that they are “pleased that by standing up to the BCC, they inspired other unions to stand up too”. While the worst of the rostering options has now been taken off the table, the fight for a decent enterprise agreement isn’t over.

ETU organiser Brenton Muller said that council management don’t appear to have learnt any lessons from the last few weeks and have just put a “final offer” to workers without consultation with any of the unions.

Given the widespread dissatisfaction within the council’s workforce, there is likely to be more to this dispute. But the electricians’ decision to stand firm has sent an important message that the workers will fight management’s steamrolling tactics.