BY GRAHAM WILLIAMS & MATTHEW RICH
MELBOURNE — The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union currently has more than half a dozen workshops out on strike in Victoria, trying to win a pattern bargaining agreement through the state AMWU branch's Campaign 2003.
The agreement, which is a follow-on from the pattern agreement previously won though Campaign 2000, has had a number of successes after some workshops were forced to resort to industrial action.
The 60 workers at Buffalo Trident in Sunshine have had a definite win. After a month on strike, they won a 5% wage rise for each of the three years of the agreement. They also won the full implementation of the 36-hour work week, six months before the end of the agreement.
Other elements of their agreement include consultation over contracting, 13 weeks long service leave after ten years on the job and protection of entitlements in a trust fund if the company gets sold. The workers can now choose to take four weeks of unpaid leave on top of existing annual leave. This is important to many of the workers, who are migrants and want to be able to travel overseas.
Workers at the Frigrite factory in Cheltenham, which makes industrial fridges, were locked-out in early May, after attempting to negotiate the pattern agreement with management. After four weeks of picketing, the workers were allowed back to work on May 27.
The 85 workers won a 5% pay increase for each of the three years of the agreement, meal money for night-shift workers and four days back-pay for wages lost during the lockout. They also won permanent jobs for those casual workers that respected the picket, while the casuals that scabbed will lose their jobs.
AMWU organiser Paul Wisniewski commented: "This proves that scabbing doesn't pay. This is the best outcome of an enterprise bargaining agreement that these workers have won in years and the union is now more solid than it has ever been."
The employees of the non-destructive testing companies that are integral to the petrochemical industry because they test the structure of steel vessels have also done well. After industrial action by the workers, the companies have conceded a 36-hour work week, total wage rises of 15% for the three years, and protection of their entitlements. The Victorian agreement will cover the NDT workers throughout Australia — previously most interstate workers were covered by individual agreements.
NCI Packaging workers were on strike for one and a half weeks — it was their first major strike for fifty years. The agreement they accepted included a 14.5% pay increase and permanency for casuals after 6 months employment. "More people joined the union because of this fight — no maintenance workers were part of the union, now they are all members. We are much stronger now.", said picketer Steve Blair.
Other workers that are still on strike or locked out include three different Stramit Industries sites Smorgon Steel in Laverton and ACI Packaging in Box Hill. The electricians at Smorgons have been on strike for more than three months.
A union-wide shop stewards' meeting is due on June 5. Workers of labour-hire companies are due to hold a 24-hour stoppage on June 12. This is part of the pattern agreement perspective that says that the last agreement finished back on March 31. Workers are keen to see a result and over come the procrastination that many bosses are using as a tactic.
In a move of solidarity with the workers at Smorgon and at other pickets, the AMWU, the Electrical Trades Union and the Socialist Alliance are organising a fundraiser at Melbourne's Comrades Bar on June 6.
[Graham Williams is a rank-and-file member of the AMWU and of the Socialist Alliance.]
From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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