BY KAMALA EMANUEL
LAUNCESTON — A picket by 23 meatworkers, locked out by smallgoods manufacturer Blue Ribbon, has entered its ninth week. The workers, members of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union, are seeking reinstatement and compensation for the time they've been locked out. The AMIEU is also seeking a collective agreement with the company.
In December 2001, Blue Ribbon went into receivership. The company that took over in January 2002 re-employed most of the work force on three-month contracts. According to the workers on the picket line, when the three months expired, they were told they were permanent and that no new contract needed to be signed. Subsequently, they were required to sign up for "training". On March 4, they were told the training would end on April 2 — and so would their jobs.
The workers were advised they would have to sign non-union individual contracts with an employment agent. The contracts became available in mid-March, giving the workers around two weeks to sign before the termination of their employment.
The contract does away with job security and many basic conditions, including holiday pay, long-service leave, sick pay and "any similar payment or other leave entitlements".
The workers described management's tactics to get workers to sign the contracts. "They started playing mind-games, calling people up, one-by-one or two-by-two, telling them to sign it now", a worker told Green Left Weekly. The bosses put out false information about how many other workers had signed the contracts. In the end, management brought in workers from a labour hire company, ordering the existing employees to train their own replacements if they didn't sign the contracts.
In early April, the company erected a fence around the plant. When the morning shift arrived, anyone who had not signed the contracts was refused entry. Some workers who had signed the contract decided to stay out in solidarity with their locked-out co-workers. As one such worker told GLW: "They had done nothing wrong. They want to go to work. Why should they be locked out?"
The Industrial Relations Commission will hold hearings regarding unfair dismissal claims on June 2-4. A resolution may take several weeks, by which time the workers will have gone without pay for more than 11 weeks. The workers have received support from other unions, as well as the local community.
The picket is at the corner of Hoblers Bridge Road and Killafady Road, Killafady, near Launceston. Donations can be sent to the AMIEU office, 237-241 Wellington St, Launceston.
From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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