ASU Delegates and Officials met with Slater & Gordon Management in our bi-monthly Joint Consultative Committee. The focus of the meeting was centred around COVID-19 related matters. Slater & Gordon Management presented details of their COVID Safe planning and advised that they had 12 plans in total covering all of the Firm’s offices nationally. The ASU was presented with some slides that have recently been shown to employees via townhall meetings.
OH&S Business is Union Business
The ASU enquired as to why these COVID Safe plans had been put together without any recent consultation from the Union. Disappointingly the National OH&S Business Partner responded by saying that there was no obligation to consult the Union on COVID Safe planning. The ASU advised of our disappointment and frustration with respect to the lack of consultation and that failing to consult the Union that represents workers at Slater & Gordon was a backwards step which effectively prevented constructive feedback from being provided. The ASU further advised that early on when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Union had agitated for active consultation about OH&S measures resulting in safer decisions being made in the interests of workers at Slater & Gordon. One example of this was the initial move to working from home well before the Victorian Government made this mandatory. Victorian members will recall that Slater & Gordon initially argued that working from home would see a drop in productivity and were hesitant to permit workers to work from home despite the obvious safety concerns.
The ASU has since requested copies of all the COVID Safe plans for our review and feedback. We say that consultation on OH&S especially in the wake of a deadly global pandemic cannot occur in a vacuum. The ASU is committed to ensuring that health and safety in the offices of Slater & Gordon is paramount so that our members are not being exposed to potential risks. We will continue to seek appropriate consultation with Slater & Gordon on all matters of OH&S especially with regard to COVID-19.
Arising from our discussion with Management, issues were raised by ASU Delegates about a potential return to the office environment and whether Slater & Gordon had factored in concerns such as communal toilets and facilities that the general public has access to. The ASU raised the example of the Sunshine office that regularly has unidentified members of the public using the toilets because there are no locks, despite these being privately tenanted facilities only for Slater & Gordon employees to use.
Slater & Gordon have committed to investigating and resolving this issue. However, the ASU is encouraging members to consider what a return to the office would look like in a practical sense and to advise your ASU Delegates (or HSR) if you have particular concerns about a potential risk if you were to return to work imminently. At this stage the ASU cannot confidently assure members that every aspect of COVID Safety has been evaluated adequately as we have not yet received detailed COVID Safe plans or been able to provide feedback to the Firm on potential areas of concern from our members.
Returning to the Office
Slater & Gordon have advised that for some time now the WA, QLD, NSW and ACT offices have been open to employees and clients as per the COVID guidelines in each State. Management further advised that given recent easing of restrictions in Victoria, there will be a return to the office shortly. Concerningly, during this meeting Slater & Gordon did not agree to advising workers of a return date despite having contemplated a tentative date already. The ASU strongly suggested that any return to the office date should be communicated to employees as soon as it is known so that workers can adequately prepare for their return. Slater & Gordon advised that they are unsure, yet optimistic that COVID restrictions will ease further and the tentative return to work date can be brought forward. Slater & Gordon advised they are uncomfortable providing any further information to employees at this stage on the exact date workers are expected to return to the office in Victoria.
The ASU have made it clear we find this lack of transparency for employees confusing and unnecessary and that our members expect clearer directives. Slater & Gordon have advised that a return to the office is not yet mandatory but when it is announced flexibility will be extended to ALL employees and that if any worker is uncomfortable returning to the office they can direct their concerns to their line manager and request to continue to work from home. Our expectation is that that Slater & Gordon will not backtrack from this proposal and that any worker feeling uncomfortable returning to the office will be able to continue with flexible working from home arrangements.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact your ASU Delegates or alternatively you can contact ASU Organiser Sarah Haar on 0409 778 890.
By your side,