Workers at Esso’s Longford gas plant in Victoria have been picketing for more than 470 days after the company sacked 230 workers and demanded they reapply for their jobs under a new agreement that would slash pay and conditions.
The dispute is one of the longest industrial stop work action in Australia in several decades, and according to Esso workers and trade unions, the current industrial relations laws are allowing bosses to get away with it.
Troy Carter, an Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) delegate at Esso, said workers “are hamstrung by both the anti-union Essential Services Act, and the secondary boycott laws”, which make solidarity action by other unionists in support of striking workers illegal.
Carter was speaking at the “Change the rules for Esso workers” public meeting held in the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Hall on September 22. The meeting was organised by the Right to Strike NSW committee and endorsed by various unions.
AMWU NSW state secretary Steve Murphy addressed the meeting, saying: “Not only do we need the right to withdraw our labour, but we need to change the whole system of industrial laws in this country.
“The top end of town are making huge profits, while workers are facing wage cuts.
“These laws are written by the bosses, not the workers. But we are now seeing a real mood for change growing among working people again.
“Labor won’t take real action unless we pressure them to do so. We need to continue the campaign to Change the Rules well beyond the next election.”
Chris Lovely an MUA representative for workers at the Hutchison terminal at Port Botany, said: “We urgently need the right to strike to defend our rights.
“On the waterfront, our safety and conditions are constantly under threat. The Fair Work Act needs to be ripped up and completely re-written.
“We demand that our right to strike be given back, or we'll take it back.”
Those who attended the meeting were urged to get along to the 'Change the Rules' union mobilisations planned for Sydney and Melbourne on October 23.