An indefinite strike by 1600 Alcoa workers in Western Australia that began on August 8 has entered a new stage with the start of a Fair Work Commission (FWC) hearing in which the company is seeking to terminate the existing enterprise agreement.
If the company's move is successful, workers at the multi-billion dollar company’s aluminium refineries and bauxite mines would be forced onto an inferior award that offers no job security and a possible wage cut of up to 50%.
In response, 400 Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) members and supporters, including from a number of other trade unions, rallied against Alcoa outside the FWC building in Perth on the first day of the hearing, September 17.
The crowd was addressed by AWU Western Australian state secretary Mike Zoetbrood, who told those present: “This isn't just a fight for you at Alcoa, this is fight for everybody, whose terms and conditions that have been negotiated over generations can now be torn up by one single decision from a commission.”
Zoetbrood slammed Alcoa, saying: “For nearly nine months they've threatened to terminate their agreement … today it’s no longer a threat.”
“Rest assured, we've got our best legal minds on to it and they will fight to protect our agreement,” Zoetbrood said. “In the meantime, we stand willing and ready to negotiate, as we have done all along … Alcoa, any time you want to sit down and talk, we will do that, anywhere, anytime.”
The Alcoa strike has developed into one of the largest industrial disputes in recent times and could have a big impact on the trade union movement, with corporations such as BP waiting to see if they too can force workers off enterprise agreements.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly at the protest, an AWU member and Alcoa worker said, “We are not asking for anything, we just want to keep what we have got”.
“They [Alcoa] are trying to save money and be competitive in the market, but they are the leaders and last year made $485 billion profit worldwide.
"This actually flows on to other workers because if these companies can get away with it, they will carry on doing it to other people and before you know it, all your rights are going to be lost, and they are going to try and casualise all the workforce.”
An AWU supporter told GLW: “It’s all about the future, it’s not just about today. We all believe we are custodians of these jobs and we are going to be passing them down, and we want to pass them down in as good a condition as we got them, or better if we can.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by two AWU members from Alcoa in Huntley, one of whom told GLW: “We have been fighting for a fair EBA for the last 18 months and Alcoa don't want to talk to us.”
The FWC hearings are set to continue until September 21.
[You can support Alcoa workers by attending the hearings at the FWC building, 111 St George's Terrace, Perth, or by visiting any of the AWU picket lines. Donations and visits are greatly appreciated. To donate, visit australianunions.org.au.]