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News News Club under cloud over AWA offers
STAFF at a Melbourne country club were pressured into signing individual contracts and allegedly warned they would lose benefits, including sporting donations provided to employees' children, unless they agreed to the below-award agreements.

An investigation has found the Mulgrave Country Club threatened to withhold pay rises to employees who did not sign the contracts, despite the workers being legally entitled to the wage increases.

Six employees complained to the Victorian Workplace Rights Advocate, Tony Lawrence, who subsequently found the club might have breached the law, applied coercion and duress to employees and engaged in unfair industrial relations practices.

David Gillette, who has worked at the outer suburban club for two years, yesterday said he had been denied pay rises after refusing to sign the proposed Australian Workplace Agreement. "I wouldn't sign it because it wasn't fair and didn't offer proper award conditions," he said.

"We have been left on the old certified agreement, which means they are paying us $2 an hour less than the AWA, and so far below the award, it's not funny."

Mr Lawrence found the club told employees the AWA wages were "vastly higher" than the federal minimum wage, even though that rate did not apply to them. It also said the AWA rates were "much higher" than the award, even though this was not the case in certain respects.

The club also warned staff that if they did not accept the AWAs, management goodwill and a number of benefits - including sporting donations to employees' children - would be withdrawn.

Mr Lawrence referred his findings to the federal Workplace Ombudsman, whose office is now investigating.

Under the original AWA offered by the club, the employees' working hours could be altered substantially at short notice.

While employees had to give 14 days' notice if they were unavailable to work, the club could cancel shifts with one hour's notice without compensation. The AWA, subsequently revised in December last year, was offered before the Howard Government's Fairness Test was introduced in May.

Mr Lawrence found some of the pay rates in the revised AWA remained inferior to the industry award, and workers employed on Sundays and public holidays would have been underpaid.

Most club staff have signed the revised AWA but up to nine who have not remain "stranded" on the certified agreement and have not had a wage increase since March lastyear. Mr Gillette, a union member who recently joined the ALP, said the threat to remove the sponsorship "didn't seem right", given many of the employees had young families.

Club general manager Kerry Scarlett rejected Mr Lawrence's findings and denied workers were coerced into signing theAWAs.

Clubs Victoria executive director Margaret Kearney said the club had acted lawfully, and she believed Mr Lawrence's findings were "politically biased".

"Everybody who didn't sign an agreement is still there," she said. "They are still on the same position they were in. There's been no coercion."

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