Friday, 18 May 2007

Fighting WorkChoices - direct action victorious against AWAs!

Some good news from Victoria, where the organisation once described by former Industrial Relations minister Kevin Andrews as "the Industrial Taliban", Union Solidarity, reports the victory (see below) of construction workers at Somerton over a company trying to implement WorkChoices. There have been a string of such victories over the last year or so (I've lost count of how many), as community activists come out in support of workers under attack from the new anti-union laws.

Meanwhile, community protesters weren't so lucky at a picket in Kilsyth a couple of weeks ago, where the a senior manager at Elliot Group drove a truck into the protesters - and into a police car.
"But four protesters were left clinging to the front of the truck fearing for their life. Unable to either move out of the way, or get off the truck, they were forced to hold on whilst the driver took off reaching speeds of up to 60 km per hour. The frightening ride was only stopped by pursuing cars that stopped the truck over 2 km away."

In Sydney, where things are a tad safer, for now, the John Holland Group is suing CFMEU Secretary Andrew Ferguson over the union's opposition to JHG moving onto the Federal Government's "Comcare" compensation system.

The Socialist Alliance has launched a petition for the tearing up of WorkChoices, and has also initiated further dialogue and cooperation on the left to build the fight against both Howard's WorkChoices, and the ALP's "WorkChoices-lite".

And the battle to get union delegate Barry Hemsworth back his job at Botany Cranes continues. There is a fundraiser for Barry, who was unfairly sacked
on September 6 last year for doing his job by raising concerns over OH&S issues. The fundraiser will be on June 1, at the CFMEU offices in Lidcombe (12 Railway St). For more info, phone Michelle on 9749 0480.

And, now to return to our main story:
Wednesday May 16, 2007

Workers in Somerton (a northern suburb of Melbourne) have proved that it's possible to get off an AWA and onto award rates and an EBA. How did they do it? By resigning en masse and setting up a community assembly out the front of the work site.

How to get out of an AWA.

A group of construction workers in Somerton have proved that it is possible to get off an AWA and onto award rates and an EBA. Metal construction workers building the new Coles distribution centre in Somerton were forced on AWAs that dramatically undercut their wages. $18 an hour casual rate was all they were being paid and ripped off on penalty rates as well.

Some of the workers were referred to the job through a Centrelink Job Network member. Under the ‘Welfare to Work’ breaching system, they were threatened they’d lose their benefits for 8 weeks if they refused this position. In addition, some of the workers were asked to sign a 20 page AWA which they had only seen on a computer screen.

The AWAs might have been a clever device for their employer not to pay the building industry award but the workers weren’t going to put up with being ripped off. Striking outside a bargaining period is illegal and aren’t AWAs binding contracts? The answer in the end was rather simple. All the workers affected resigned en masse an protested outside the distribution centre gates.

In response their employer sought legal sanctions against the workers claiming the union [AMWU] was organising an illegal strike. The case was thrown out. The workers weren’t on strike, but resigned and were protesting against their rotten conditions. What they hoped to achieve was to be re-employed on the industry standard rate of pay.

Still the company refused to budge. Coles was not the direct employer of the construction workers but were happy to allow a contractor to rip workers off who were building the Coles distribution centre. Ironically at 6am on Friday the 13th a community assembly magically materialized, literally from the early morning fog, outside the main gate of the distribution centre. Security and amazed truck drivers were informed that nothing would be going in or out until 10am and nothing in fact did move in or out for four hours.

Protesting by the metals construction workers and the community assembly had the desired effect. After some argy bargy with the union, Coles and the contractor agreed to pay the correct rates and the workers were re-employed. Workers on the site have scored a $10 an hour increase and a host of other benefits that come with working on a union EBA linked to the correct award, it doesn’t get much sweeter than this, they won!

Power to the union.

Union Solidarity

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