Lone shift worker beats Coles and unions to win full bench hearing

The Australian, May 15, 2017

A self-represented Coles nightshift worker has overcome the supermarket giant and two ­unions to have her bid to terminate a pay deal heard by a Fair Work Commission full bench.

Penny Vickers, who works three night shifts a week at a Brisbane Coles store, successfully ­argued it was in the public interest for a full bench to hear her bid to terminate the 2011 agreement covering 74,000 Coles workers.

Coles reverted to the 2011 deal after the commission found a controversial 2014 agreement left some employees worse off than the award. Ms Vickers is seeking the retrospective termination of the 2011 agreement arguing workers were still underpaid compared with the award.

In a decision on Friday, commission vice-president Adam Hatcher agreed it was in the public interest to have her application heard by a full bench.

“I consider that the number of employees to which the 2011 agreement applies is so large as to make the question of the termination of the 2011 agreement a matter of public significance because of its potentially broad economic and commercial ­effects.” Commissioner Hatcher said the attempt to have the ­termination backdated to 2014 was also a matter that warranted consideration by a full bench.

He said applications under the Fair Work Act to terminate ­enterprise agreements with retrospective effect had been rare. They had been granted where the backdating was for only a short period and the agreement had limited application.

“There has not been any ­authoritative pronouncement or consideration of the principles to be taken into account in deciding such a significant matter,’’ he said.

Ms Vickers represented herself during the legal proceedings. She was opposed by industrial lawyers engaged by Coles and the shop assistants union. The Australian Workers Union also ­opposed her application.

Coles put workers back on a 2011 enterprise agreement rather than lift pay for the casual and part-time employees the commission subsequently found were worse-off under the rejected deal.

Union officials have conceded that the 2014 Coles deal would have potent­ially disadvantaged more than 11,000 of the super­market chain’s 77,000 workers, despite 90 per cent of employees voting to support it.