Workers In Struggle
MUA v Svitzer
The MUA is ramping up a campaign against Svitzer, the largest towage service operators in Australia after the company withdrew from Geelong and Sydney last year, placing crews on enforced redundancies, claiming COVID had made their business unviable. Svitzer has now returned to the ports and intends to use non-union, labour-hire, fly-in workers to replace the original crews. In Geelong this has meant 17 workers losing their jobs after they had been working with the company for two years and had reached an in-principle agreement before they were laid off four days before Christmas last year.
In response to what is now seen as an unashamed attack on union workers, the MUA and supporters rallied, first in Geelong last week and again on Friday at Webb Dock, Melbourne. The Webb Dock rally included many other supporting unions and activists. Christy Cain, the new National Secretary of the CFMMEU, spoke at the Friday rally, declaring that the dispute will be fought on a national stage,– with the 12-hour stoppage of the Svitzer workers at Webb Dock on Friday just the beginning of stoppages at major ports around the country.
The dispute, with its push to remove the union from the towage industry, was characterised as Patricks Mark 2, referring to the waterside dispute with Patricks in 1998. Svitzer Global is part of Maersk; an integrated container logistics company, the biggest in the world. Christy Cain said that the next rally will take the issue to the doorstep of Maersk’s offices in the Melbourne CBD to raise broader awareness of the role the company is playing in undermining the job security, conditions and pay of workers.
ASU v Geelong Regional Library Service
In a dispute over pay, safety and security which has been brewing since May, ASU members began a limited action against Geelong Regional Libraries. The actions started with wearing of union badges and t-shirts at 17 sites including Geelong, Barwon Heads, Drysdale, Lara, and Torquay culminating in ASU members and their supporters holding a stop work rally outside the Geelong library last week. Staff at public libraries across Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula and the Surf Coast have commenced industrial action, claiming they are among the worst paid in the state. The ASU says its members’ safety is being put at risk through inadequate staffing and a lack of security.
ASU Secretary Lisa Darmanin said the local libraries are recognised as the best in Victoria, but their staff are among the lowest paid.
“Management’s most recent below-inflation pay offer would further reduce real wages and was resoundingly rejected by staff despite senior managers using library resources in an effort to ram it through,” Ms Darmanin said.
“Union members at Geelong Regional Libraries are beyond frustrated with library management - they are angry that their legitimate pay and workplace safety concerns are being ignored.”
Staff are also calling for a minimum of two people working at any one time, and a permanent security presence at the main library.
CEPU v Australia Post
Australia Post workers have asked the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) to hold a ballot for industrial action. They are fighting for better work conditions and a pay rise. Postal workers have been trying to negotiate an enterprise agreement with AP for more than a year.
Last year during the COVID-19 lockdown, Australia Post enforced a special Memorandum of Understanding, which the CEPU described as a “betrayal” because it enforced a pay cut of up to 30%, cut delivery standards and prohibited industrial action.
The union said the cuts to deliveries came “under the guise of pandemic safety when the reality on the ground was [that Australia] Post made a shameful effort to keep workers safe”. Postal workers said that, as an example, Australia Post was slow to implement personal protective equipment.
CEPU organiser Paul Sutton said the so-called “delivery model” changes, which would reduce delivery frequency, was a deflection from the real problem — understaffing.
According to the CEPU, Australia Post has tried to prevent workers from participating in bargaining and taking protected industrial action. The protected industrial action ballot takes approximately 30 days.
CPSU v Services Australia
The CPSU is notifying a dispute under national Workplace Health and Safety laws to force Services Australia, which includes Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers, to protect the safety of its workers while continuing to provide services to the community in these dangerous circumstances and to force a national rollout of clear standards for lockdowns. The union says managers are ignoring lockdown and working from home orders in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Darwin and in the most recent Melbourne lockdown. Workers are being forced to break lockdown orders and attend the office to perform non-customer facing roles, work from the office when they have the capacity to work from home, and being told to use their own leave when identified as a close contact.
New Report Exposes Gross Underpayment of Farmworkers
A Migrant Workers Centre and Unions NSW report revealed alarming evidence of widespread exploitation of backpackers and rampant wage theft in the horticulture industry. It showed 78% of farmworkers are being underpaid, with some workers being paid as little as $9 a day. Right now, farm-workers’ rights are under review and workers are calling for a guaranteed minimum wage. The report says the Federal government must urgently:
• Make wage theft a crime
• Introduce stronger enforcement of backpackers’ accommodation to combat widespread non-compliance with relevant housing laws
• Fund regional hubs, unions and community legal centres to run information sessions to assist workers to learn about and stand up for their rights
• Introduce a national labour hire licensing scheme modelled on Queensland and Victoria
• Make systemic changes to combat discrimination facing migrant workers, including reforming the temporary visa system, introducing pathways to permanent residency, and providing a social safety net for all temporary migrant workers.
Ensuring Integrity Bill Likely to Return
Coalition insider Graeme Watson is reported as saying the Government will bring back the anti-worker Ensuring Integrity Bill, defeated in parliament in 2019.
“Watson’s comments, reported on Workplace Express, reveal the Government’s secret plan to again attack workers’ rights under a bogus spin campaign citing integrity,” said Dave Noonan, CFMEU National Construction Secretary.
Sri Lankan Education Labour Union Targeted by Government
On Thursday July 8, 33 labour activists, including Ceylon Teachers’ Union Secretary Joseph Stalin, were arrested in Polduwa as they were protesting the introduction of the proposed Kotelawala University Bill. Union and human rights groups have strongly opposed this new bill as not only would it pave the way for the privatisation of the higher education sector, but it would also lead to the militarisation of universities as it would place the management of universities under the control of the ministry of defence. All the arrested activists were granted bail by the courts, but the military nevertheless took all of them away to an undisclosed location for quarantine reasons. Grave fears are held for the CTU Secretary as Joseph is a Tamil with a long history of activism in labour and human rights movements.
Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills Trapped Workers
At least 52 workers have been killed after a fire broke out at the Hashem Food and Beverage factory in Rupganj, an industrial town 25km (15 miles) east of capital Dhaka. Witnesses report that several workers jumped from the windows in a desperate attempt to escape the fire and dozens more workers have been injured. The factory owner has now been arrested and charged with murder after initial investigations found the workers had been padlocked inside the building. The blaze continued to burn for almost 24 hours, fueled by flammable chemicals and plastics stored on site.
Many details of this story are reminiscent of the Rana Plaza disaster, the 2013 collapse of a nine-story building in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 workers and spurred promises of reform.
The Worker’s Solidarity Bulletin is a living document written to reflect what is happening within the labour movement, here in Australia and across the world. The producers of this publication, and participants in Workers Solidarity more broadly, don’t necessarily endorse or agree with all of the views in this publication. This is a place for debate and discussion.
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