By Bronwen Beechey
MELBOURNE — The dispute between electricity supplier Citipower and the Electrical Trades Union has entered its 13th week. ETU members voted on August 5 to stay out until the issue of job security has been resolved.
The dispute began on May 1, after negotiations over a new enterprise agreement broke down.
Citipower, a wholly owned subsidiary of US power company Entergy, proposed changes to sick leave, long service entitlements, hours of work, and penalty and call-back provisions. It offered in exchange a pay increase of 6% over two years, subject to the company's business targets being met. In addition, the company wants to use non-union contractors not covered by enterprise agreements.
Citipower has made little effort to negotiate, instead subjecting the union to a series of court injunctions. On June 6 the company won a Supreme Court injunction banning union members from coming within 50 metres of Citipower premises.
The workers moved the picket lines to just outside the 50-metre boundary.
ETU organiser Howard Worthing told Green Left that most of the issues had been resolved. The outstanding issue is the company's use of scab contractors and the implications this has for the job security of ETU members.
Citipower has given the scabs contracts for two and a half years. It has refused to provide the same guarantee of long-term employment to ETU members.
On August 1, Citipower went to the Industrial Relations Commission to have the bargaining period terminated and bring the dispute to arbitration. In response, the ETU has taken Citipower to the Federal Court for breaching awards in its use of contractors.
Citipower has also taken Worthing and two other union members to the Supreme Court, alleging that they breached the June 6 injunction.
The workers remain determined. They are receiving financial support from other unions, and from ETU members employed in other power utilities.
ETU members on the picket line in North Melbourne told Green Left that morale was still high despite the hardships caused by the dispute. They are angry at Citipower management, who, in the words of one worker, "have lied and lied and lied".
He said that many workers had been talked out of taking packages after Citipower took over following the break-up and privatisation of the State Electricity Commission. "They promised they would look after us. There is no way we can trust them now."
"They have sent out letters to our members' homes by courier, addressed to the member's wife, saying that we are not being told the truth by our leadership", said Chris Szikla, an electrical fitter and ETU member. "One guy had a courier knock on his door at 10.30 at night."
Szikla said that these tactics had only served to make the members more determined. "We really haven't got a choice. We're not only fighting our own battle, it's also for members of other unions."
The ETU pickets are at Bourke St (near Spencer St), Melbourne, Walsh St, North Melbourne, and Rooney St, Richmond. Donations and messages of support can be sent to the Citipower Fighting Fund, ETU, 516-520 Swanston St, Carlton South 3053.