Parramatta counsellors prepare for industrial action

The Union calls on the employer to resolve outstanding issues as a matter of urgency.

Counsellors employed by Catholic Education in the Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) will start the year with protected action ballots following a long dispute over the making of an enterprise agreement (EA).

The Union has vigorously sought an EA since 2012 when a shock ‘realignment’ of counsellor positions by the diocese resulted in very significant reductions to their salaries and conditions.

Early negotiations looked promising with some key matters agreed in principle between the employer and the Union. Discussions dissipated during the 2014 Catholic systemic dispute.

EA negotiations for counsellors eventually recommenced, but new proposals emerged from the employer that would serve to disadvantage counsellors. The Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) on behalf of the CEDP later cited technical reasons, a new restructure of the CEDP and “no appetite” for an EA as reasons to cease bargaining. The Union sought bargaining orders from the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The matter was before the FWC on 3 May 2016 and later that month the CEDP issued representational rights notices to counsellors.

Employer proposals

Meetings are now occurring between the Union and the CCER, but no progress has been made due to highly unacceptable employer proposals. A major sticking point is the refusal of the CEDP to agree to any pay rise in the EA, thereby leaving any decisions for salary movement to the whim of the executive director. A few years ago the executive director withheld a salary increase from counsellors and other CEDP staff when teachers and other school employees received 2.5%. Wage settlement is a major part of EA negotiations and the standard 2.5% claim should be straightforward.

Further contentious proposals include scheduling compulsory professional development during non term time; arrangements regarding changes of work location and potential requirements that counsellors could be moved from primary to secondary education or vice versa without their agreement.

The employer has also foreshadowed their interest in employing new counsellors on inferior conditions that would include longer hours of work, reduced leave and the application of ‘stand down’ and averaging of salaries. The Union is opposed to this model that would whittle down the salaries and conditions of counsellors and create a divisive two tiered system of counsellor employment.

Member response

Counsellors are dismayed and believe that the employer has scant understanding of their work and little respect for their contribution to the system. They are appalled by the worsening employer proposals, given the concessions already made by counsellors and the reasonable nature of the Union claim. The Union anticipates a united response to a campaign of industrial action.

This protracted campaign has heightened counsellors’ awareness of the benefit of achieving an EA to ensure ongoing pay rises and to provide greater security and protection of conditions.

The Union calls on the employer to resolve outstanding issues as a matter of urgency. Unless this occurs, the Union expects strong results to protected action ballots initiating an ongoing campaign involving a range of industrial action strategies.

Gloria Taylor
Deputy Secretary