Kevin Loran works as a supervisor at NDIS-registered disability support organisation Nadrasca. Based in Nunawading in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, the company employs people with intellectual disabilities in a packing, assembling and warehouse environment. Kevin and his supervisor colleagues help them engage in meaningful, paid work, including packing gift boxes for a major pharmacy chain and testing electrical cables.
“For a lot of the people that we support, it’s not just about the work,” Kevin says. “It’s very social. They get out of their community housing and away from their carers, meet people and make good friends. We’ve even got a few married couples now.”
When Kevin joined Nadrasca almost a decade ago, the previous enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) had lapsed, with unfortunate results. There had been a salary structure that awarded employees a pay increase, in addition to any annual increments, to mark one, three and six years of service. But while the conditions of an EBA will usually carry over until a new one is agreed, that’s not automatically the case with particular conditions such as bonuses.
“I just thought we were being a bit neglected, to be honest.”
“Disability services, historically, aren’t very well paid, so this was meandering along and people were reasonably happy with it,” Kevin says. “And then, all of a sudden, you get new management, and they’re not paying these service increases anymore. So, I came up to my six years and didn’t get an increase.”
He contacted payroll and was informed that he wouldn’t receive the expected third service increase as he was being paid above the award. This considerable change to the status quo happened without any communication, exacerbating the situation.
Supervisors already get paid considerably less than the workers’ full-time carers who accompany school-leavers transitioning into the workforce via Nadrasca’s ‘My Life, My Future’ program. “There was no explanation,” he says. “No one was taking much notice of us supervisors at all. So, I just thought we were being a bit neglected, to be honest.”
The group reached out to the AEU for support, and Kevin says they were overjoyed when organiser Carolyn Pearce stepped in to help out. “Carolyn is brilliant and was on board from day one, working through the union process to make a case for us.”
“She was empathetic, dedicated and professional and she fought very, very hard for us. I can’t rave about her enough, and Elaine Gillespie [AEU Vice President, TAFE and Adult Provision] was brilliant too, as was industrial officer Renee Mooney, so it was a real team effort, alongside my fellow supervisors.”
It was about changing the culture, too. “Where admin is, it’s up about ten steps from our work on the production floor, and we always felt that if you work at the bottom of those ten steps, you weren’t treated fairly or equally.”
While it was a long process, Kevin never lost sight of the goal and how to get there.
Kevin was initially reluctant to be the face of the negotiations, but when no one else put their hand up, he agreed to step in. “Once I was pushed into it, basically by default, I tried to make sure I gave as much feedback as possible to the other supervisors and got their input.”
Carolyn says Kevin’s negotiating skills were exemplary. “He’s a legend,” she says. “He was able to get people into a space and to help them articulate, as a team, what they wanted to see in terms of improvements in their next agreement.”
While the negotiations were constructive, Kevin was frustrated by the pace, hampered by turnover in the management roles. “We wanted to sit down once a week for two or three hours to thrash it out and get it done, but Nadrasca only agreed to one hour once a fortnight,” Kevin says.
“Carolyn and I put it to them that they weren’t serious and were stalling. It took 18 months, in the end, to negotiate an EBA for five people. It just didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere for a very long time.”
While it was a long process, Carolyn says Kevin never lost sight of the goal and how to get there. “Kevin has an incredible capacity for detail and real tenacity in terms of continuing to explain the issues raised from he and his colleagues’ perspectives. He was able to give them concrete examples so that they would have a better understanding of the work they do.”
“The only constant throughout the whole thing was having the AEU on our side.”
While the old pay structure with recognition for years of service was not returned, the negotiating team were able to secure some new wins, including domestic violence and Cultural and Ceremonial leave for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, additional sick leave, an annual performance bonus and a 3% increase on top of the Fair Work Commission ruling. Plus, a $1000 sign-on bonus.
Carolyn commends Kevin for selflessly negotiating on behalf of a colleague who was slightly above the award figure, to preserve that employee’s individual deal, keeping them on a slightly higher increment. “He saw that through, even though it’s not a matter that would positively benefit him. That’s what I mean by his dedication to this task.”
Kevin shrugs off praise. As far as he was concerned, it was a team effort throughout, singling out Carolyn for particular praise. “There was a lot of turnover in Nadrasca’s management, so the only constant throughout the whole thing was having Carolyn on our side,” he says. “And even with the EBA signed off, she’s kept in constant touch, checking in with us to make sure everything’s going OK.”
The agreement includes a commitment to renegotiate a new deal six months out from its expiry date. Kevin says he’ll definitely be involved in the next round of negotiations. “You feel like you’ve been through a battle, but I’m just glad to come out the other side relatively unscathed, and there’s even a bit more camaraderie amongst the team now.”
That includes clearer lines of communication with management as well. “We have a new culture and people manager, and he’s brilliant. He came in and worked through all the issues. And our new general manager is great too. He listens. You won’t always agree with what they’re doing, but they’ll do it fairly and be clear on why. There is good dialogue.”