Show Us the Books

The Fair Work Commission has ordered an employer to produce books of account showing its financial status, in a long running bargaining dispute with several unions. Despite its protestations about the extent of the financial records and other material it has to produce, a full bench of the FWC has required the company to hand over numerous documents which relate to its profitability and future business.

The dispute with the unions has been in train for some time. The company has repeatedly claimed it is in a poor economic situation in respect to the work to be covered by the proposed agreement. However the unions have convinced the FWC that if this claim is correct, then the employer should be required to prove it with the records the unions have demanded to see.

While the unions’ demands for access were not all agreed to by the FWC full bench, nevertheless their principal aims have been met. Of particular interest is the fact that the documents the employer must produce include its forecasted trade volumes, prices and expected profits through to the end of 2021.

This case underlines the need for employers to be careful about rejecting claims on the grounds of poor profitability and related trading conditions. It is easy to say this, and often it is said as part of the negotiations. But when the discussions and bargaining has gone on for a long time, and the story hasn’t change, this outcome is unsurprising.

Esso Australia Case