Fight reinstates Geelong workers
Lisa Gleeson, Geelong
Two Geelong council workers who were sacked on July 24 for accepting free steak sandwiches from a Geelong club owner have been reinstated. The victory followed an escalation in the two-week-old dispute, when the Australian Services Union (ASU) members walked off the job on August 10.
Mick Van Beek and Peter Anderson were sacked for filling in a pothole at the Leopold Sportsman's Club car park with material bound for the local tip in November 2008.
Eight months later a “whistleblower” alerted council to the pair's actions, which led to their sacking. The council said the pair were found guilty of theft, fraud and using council materials for personal benefit.
The alleged “personal benefit” came in the form of two steak sandwiches that the owner of the club insisted the workers take — more than a week later.
Geelong city council backed down on August 13 and agreed to reinstate the workers. The settlement negates all allegations made against them.
The sackings sparked an enormous public outcry. It made the front pages of local media most days and provided a hot topic for local talk-back radio. Commercial TV station vans became a familiar sight outside the city hall.
Supporters joked that the workers were getting more media coverage than the town's AFL team, the Geelong Cats. The campaign included street marches, union leaflets, stop work meetings, solidarity T-shirts, a satirical cartoon and even a commemorative song from the Geelong Trades Hall Choir called, “There's a hole in my car park”.
At the height of the campaign all council depots were closed and workers joined community supporters to picket city hall council meetings. Hundreds dressed in yellow T-shirts with the slogan: “Rein-steak Peter and Mick.” They noisily chanted: “Touch one, touch all.”
Geelong Trades Hall secretary Tim Gooden told Green Left Weekly: “The community had quite clearly said that enough was enough. We had people from all walks of life and all the unions coming in to lend a hand so we could build a campaign to get their jobs back.
“One of the local pubs even gave away free steak sandwiches to all council workers one lunch time. At the end of the day the unity and solidarity built by the ASU's industrial campaign, supported by the community and organised through Geelong Trades Hall, won out.”