Australia: Hearing implant manufacturer Cochlear claims union smear campaign

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Oct 31 15:08:47 UTC 2007

Cochlear claims union smear campaign

October 31, 2007 - 8:59AM

Hearing implant manufacturer Cochlear has labelled claims that migrant
workers are forbidden to speak any language but English in its change
rooms and toilets as a union smear campaign. The Australian
Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) has lodged a claim with the NSW
Anti-Discrimination Board against the Sydney-based company. The AMWU
is representing an employee over a claim that he was told earlier this
year to speak English at all times at Cochlear or risk forfeiting
future pay rises.

Cochlear chief executive Chris Roberts said the company's English-only
policy had been initiated and agreed unanimously by employees last
year and did not apply outside manufacturing areas. "Our policy is on
the work floor," Mr Roberts told AAP. "It's got nothing to do with
what they speak in the lunch room or toilet or wherever. "This is a
classic union-led smear campaign against Cochlear."

He also said Cochlear had since offered TAFE workplace English courses
that about two-thirds of the employees, of more than 30 different
nationalities, had attended. Mr Roberts has not seen the complaint the
AMWU filed but told AAP the employee in question had never raised the
issue with his supervisor or anyone else at the company. AMWU state
secretary Paul Bastian said the company had changed tack since the
issue emerged.

"That's a changed position and if that's the position, we welcome it,"
Mr Bastian told AAP. "But workers have been told they would be subject
to warnings, discipline or loss of monetary entitlements if they were
found speaking in another language at any time at work." The issue has
emerged near the end of controversial wage negotiations that started
after a collective agreement with workers expired in June.

The AMWU said Cochlear workers had voted four times against a
non-union agreement and wanted union representation in wage
negotiations. "This is clearly a company that is anti-union, that is
using every avenue it's got under the Work Choices legislation to deny
these workers their rights," Mr Bastion said.
Mr Roberts said workers had rejected a proposed agreement about four
months ago but had never voted for union representation in wage

Cochlear had engaged the AMWU during negotiations but the union had
refused to represent workers when Cochlear was going ahead with moving
employees onto common law contracts, Mr Roberts said. He also said
workers had been granted a four per cent pay rise in August. "If
there's a dispute, it's with the union wanting to do a union
collective agreement and we do not want to do a union collective
agreement with the AMWU," Mr Roberts said.

"There is no dispute between Cochlear and its workers and there is no
dispute about pay or conditions."
The Anti-Discrimination Board process begins with a review of the
complaint and an opportunity for Cochlear to respond. If a resolution
is not reached, the board will arrange a conciliation conference
between both parties.

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