United Workers Union (UWU) will challenge MSS Security, one of Victoria’s largest private security companies, in the Fair Work Commission for engaging in underhanded and dishonest tactics to maximise the ‘Yes’ vote in a ballot for the MSS Security Victorian Enterprise Agreement 2021.
In its Form F18 filed with the Fair Work Commission on Christmas Eve, UWU opposed the approval of the Agreement on the basis there are reasonable grounds for believing it has not been genuinely agreed to by workers because of what it alleges were misrepresentations by MSS about the terms of the Agreement and the voting process, as well as intimidating and coercive behaviour by MSS management.
Bargaining for the new enterprise agreement began in April 2021 with the main point of contention between UWU and MSS Security being pay and the use of subcontractors, with UWU seeking a fair pay increase and a ‘safeguard’ commitment that subcontractors will receive the same pay for the same job, claims which MSS Security refused.
A ballot for the enterprise agreement was conducted between the 12th and the 16th of December 2021 with the ‘yes’ vote narrowly getting over the line by only four votes.
MSS Security engaged election services provider CiVS to conduct the ballot, with employees being able to vote via an electronic ballot, telephone, or SMS. One voting service CiVS offers is an ‘online, secure Tally Room [which] provides a real-time vote-count at any time throughout the vote’. UWU alleges early in the ballot area managers were advised the ‘Yes’ vote was 100 votes behind the ‘No’ vote and they as managers needed to do more to encourage their employees to vote ‘Yes’.
Quotes attributable to Nicholas Richardson, United Workers Union Property Services Lead:
“We had reports of area managers calling employees they knew hadn’t voted and advising them to vote ‘Yes’. We even had very concerning reports of managers going out onto site, telling people to vote yes, and asking to check their phones to verify voting. Guards working at events received text messages stating they would receive a ‘minimum $6.67 hourly increase on top of award rates’. Under the Agreement voted on, event guards working public holidays, Saturdays and Sundays would enjoy no advantage over the Award on their hourly rates, a far smaller advantage on weeknights and all this in exchange for the ability of MSS to roster people for up to 50 hours a week before overtime is payable. After the vote, these guards informed the Union that if they had known these details they would have voted ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’
“This is yet another example that shows the bargaining process is broken – it is geared towards employers and the cracks in the system are open to manipulation.”
Quotes attributable to Allan Smith, Union Workers Union Delegate and Enterprise Bargaining Representative:
“One text message read ‘Vote YES for the MSS Agreement to receive a pay increase of $1800 per year on average’. I don’t know where that figure comes from. So, I sought an urgent explanation from MSS Security about the figure. They said they’d come back to me on that but they never did. There was also a text message which stated, “Not voting is “No” vote!”. We have received reports of employees who had planned to vote ‘No’ but didn’t because of that message.”
Quotes attributable to Peter Watkinson, Union Workers Union Delegate and Enterprise Bargaining Representative:
“We were told by MSS Security days before the ballot commenced that about 950 employees would be eligible to vote. But in the declaration of results there’s 1359 eligible employees – that’s really strange. There have also been reports of new employees asking for their ballots early in the week and being told they weren’t eligible, only to be told later in the week they could vote after all. The fact is, new employees are much more likely to vote ‘Yes’ to an Agreement, so it’s all very odd and needs to be looked into.”
UWU alleges the text messages made a material difference to the outcome of the narrow vote, likely pushing the ‘Yes’ vote over the line, and are seriously concerned that around 400 more employees appear to have been added to the electorate during the ballot process.
If employees were added to the electorate during the ballot process, this would likely mean MSS Security has failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure all employees received a copy of the proposed Agreement and an explanation as to its terms and effects prior to the ballot opening.
The matter is waiting to be listed in the Fair Work Commission.
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