To cries of "Barry's back, Howard's out", sacked union delegate Barry Hemsworth marched through the gates of Botany Cranes on November 29 to reclaim his job after 441 days picketing outside the crane yard.
Hemsworth's case was a prominent example of the injustice of the Howard government's workplace laws. He was sacked for "insubordination" when he attempted to resist the erosion of occupational health and safety standards on the job. His sacking would have clearly been illegal under the unfair dismissal laws that were removed by the Howard government shortly before Hemsworth was sacked.
Hemsworth pledged from the beginning to campaign both for his job and an end to Work Choices at least until the recent federal election. Days before the election, the company caved in and agreed to Hemsworth's return to work under terms that remain confidential.
On the morning of Hemsworth's return to work, Unions NSW secretary John Robertson told supporters that "Barry's struggle was symbolic of everything that was wrong with Work Choices".
"Work Choices took away unfair dismissal rights — the thing that could have seen Barry back at work much earlier", he said, adding: "Work Choices was about making sure people didn't stand up for their rights."
Robertson praised Hemsworth's courage and said that the resolution of the dispute showed that "workers can still win".
Andrew Ferguson of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union told the gathering that Hemsworth's return to work is a "great victory for workers' rights in this country" and gave tribute to his "tenacity, fighting capacity, courage and passion".
A delegation of maritime unionists from Port Botany marched up to the crane yard to join supporters from a number of unions, socialist groups and members of the community. They formed a guard of honour as Hemsworth drove a crane out of the yard to do a victory lap.
After his return to work, Hemsworth (who will be 60 next year) resigned his job and received a redundancy payout.
Ferguson told GLW that there will be a meeting of all the yard workers at Botany Cranes "in the next week or two" to talk about "the dispute, workers' rights and to increase our bargaining power in this yard". He was confident the union would "succeed in doing that".
Ferguson also indicated that the union will continue organising. He said that the shed that had been Hemsworth's office since his sacking and the symbol of the Botany Cranes dispute was to be moved to the Elite Marble and Granite factory in Condell Park to establish a new picket. That company formerly had a union agreement but then sacked the unionists and brought in temporary workers from China, paying them only $50 per week. "Two of those workers have joined the union", Ferguson told GLW, "and they'll be picketing the front gate of that factory until we reach a resolution of their wage claim".
"We've already had a very substantial offer from the company but we're not going to compromise until we've had full settlement of their claims."