By Michael Bull and Vannessa Hearman
MELBOURNE — A dispute between Citipower and members of the Electrical Trades Union has continued for seven weeks.
ETU organiser Howard Worthing told Green Left Weekly, "In the months prior to the expiry of the previous enterprise agreement on March 21, unions and Citipower began negotiations to reach a new agreement". During negotiations, however, "it became obvious that we were heading towards a dispute".
"Citipower was demanding one-hour call-backs, working hours of 6am to 11pm on any five days out of seven, one-and-a-half-time penalty rates across the board, and that the prerequisite for long service leave be extended from 10 to 15 years' service.
"Shop stewards on union business during work hours would also have to be paid by the union if Citipower got its way", Worthing said.
In return, Citipower offered a pay increase of 6% over two years, conditional on meeting the company's business targets. To erode conditions further and divide the work force, Citipower also proposes to hire non-unionised, low-wage contractors who would have no access to enterprise agreements.
Negotiations broke down at the end of April, and the unions began industrial action on May 1. Bans were put in place and picket lines set up at several sites.
Some staff supervisors are performing fault rectifications; however, without routine maintenance the system is at risk of a major breakdown. A blackout in the inner city area could close down the underground railway loop system, traffic lights, lifts and computer systems, jeopardising public safety.
Worthing says Citipower — a wholly owned subsidiary of Entergy, a US power utility — is introducing the union-busting tactic of court injunctions, widely used by US corporations. The Supreme Court on June 6 granted an injunction directing unions and their members "not to harass contractors and not to come within 50 metres of Citipower premises".
Worthing told Green Left that the strikers remain determined to force Citipower to back down.