By Kim Linden and Sue Bolton
MELBOURNE — Workers at the ACI glass plant AGM Spotswood are continuing the fight for their jobs. The dispute could become a test case for the Howard government's industrial relations laws.
On June 3, ACI's parent company BTR announced that it would sack 59 of its 137 maintenance workers and would force shift changes. The company sent letters to workers advising them of shift changes from June 17 and retrenchments as of July 1.
The dispute was taken to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on June 13, where the company agreed to withdraw the letters unconditionally and to negotiate with the five unions involved.
After a further IRC hearing on June 25, the company sent letters to 59 workers advising them that they would be stood down from July 1 to September 30, then retrenched on October 1. The company plans to use some of the workers in the glass production process to replace the maintenance workers, as well as bringing in contract workers. The glass production workers are covered by the Australian Workers Union.
Of the 59 retrenchments, 45 are forced and 14 are voluntary redundancies. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union was prepared to accept some retrenchments if they were voluntary, but the company refused. Metal Trades Industry Association (MTIA) spokesperson Roger Boland was quoted in the Age on July 9 as saying that the company was "determined to smash a 'union fiefdom' at the plant". Union delegates and occupational health and safety representatives are amongst those being forcibly retrenched.
On July 5, 25 maintenance workers locked themselves in the plant and stayed there until July 12, when they were forcibly removed by police. As they were evicted, about 100 supporters chanted and jeered the police, who outnumbered the workers 2 to 1.
On July 11, the Transport Workers Union placed a ban on trucks taking goods to and from the plant. On July 11 and 12, ACI stood down maintenance workers who refused to repair machinery.
Vince Theuma, AMWU organiser, told Green Left that the workers are now looking at a two- to three-month picket outside the plant. "The struggle has just started", he said.
A stop-work meeting of BTR workers on July 9 voted to take action against BTR-ACI in solidarity with the Spotswood workers, including placing bans on overtime, contractors and outsourcing.
Morale on the picket line is high, and the workers expect to win the dispute. To show your support, visit the picket line at Raleigh St (just off Simcock Ave), Spotswood, near the Scienceworks Museum, or contact the AMWU on (03) 9230 5700 or the Electrical Trades Union on (03) 9347 9555.