BY STEPHEN GARVEY
MELBOURNE — ACI Mould Manufacturing took the provocative action over the June 7-9 long weekend of issuing workers at its Box Hill plant with a notice that they would be locked out for a month from June 16 to July 18.
The 77 workers, all members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union's metal division, were initially "stood down" on May 16, after they began industrial bans, trying to win the AMWU's Campaign 2003 pattern bargaining agreement.
At the time, ACI chose to stand the workers down, rather than lock them out, because it could do so immediately, whereas a company has to give workers 72 hours' notice before a lockout can be legally conducted. The workers will notice little difference as it will mean two months without pay.
ACI's actions are intended to grind down the workers into accepting a new enterprise bargaining agreement that would drastically roll back working conditions.
The company wants the workers to accept:
- the cancellation of penalty rates for working on Saturdays;
- the provision of a doctor's certificate for a single day of sick leave;
- the removal of the 36-hour work week. After having won this several years ago, the workers do not intend to give up a condition, which the rest of the AMWU metal division is campaigning for;
- annual leave only to be taken during the Christmas shutdown. In one recent instance, the company refused to allow a worker to take annual leave in the middle of the year to visit his dying mother in another country; and
- annual leave not to be accumulated from one year to the next. In a factory with a predominantly migrant work force, workers want the right to accumulate leave so that when they visit their families overseas, they can stay longer than five weeks.
ACI companies have a reputation for being corporate bullies. The stand-down is not the only way ACI harasses its employees. In one recent example, a worker with 32 years of working for ACI was sacked while on workers' compensation. Workers report that workplace injuries are a common occurrence because the heavy moulds are manually lifted.
In another instance, ACI sacked a worker for making two mistakes. It turned out that the mistakes were a result of the company introducing new technology without training. It appears that the company is trying to push older workers, who haven't been trained how to use computerised equipment, out the door.
Previously, ACI was a subsidiary of British company BTR-Nylex, however, in 1998, it was taken over by US-owned Owen-Illinois Inc. This company has a monopoly over bottle production in Australia and owns container plants and mould shops in New Zealand, China and Indonesia.
Shop steward Milan Ilic and other workers at the picket line told Green Left Weekly that the troubles began after the company changed hands.
During the Christmas period of 1999 and early 2000, the company locked out the workers for more than four months.
ACI has also sought to undermine wages and conditions by outsourcing work to China and America. Workers at the Box Hill site say that technologies that have been deemed an occupational health and safety hazard in their workplace have been introduced into overseas work sites.
Some of the workers who have worked for other companies before indicated that the management under this US transnational has been nothing but hostile. According to one worker: "This is the worst company I have ever worked for."
With ACI's record of locking out workers for months at a time, it's possible that this dispute could last for a significant period of time. This makes it all the more important to build a broad community campaign to support the workers. According to Ilic, there is support from workers at other ACI plants in Melbourne and interstate.
The picket line is at 38 Lexton Street, Box Hill.
From Green Left Weekly, June 18, 2003.
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