Union Solidarity-led community picketers halted the construction of the Otway gas plant for a day on October 20. The picketers came from Melbourne, Geelong, Warrnambool, Hamilton and Portland to support the workers at the site.
For two years, construction at the site has proceeded without a single day of industrial action. In June, a site agreement was negotiated between unions and the construction company, Technip.
However, the project is $130 million in the red and 12 months behind schedule, apparently due to mismanagement at the site. In an attempt to recover its losses, Technip employed industrial relations consultant Interposition, led by ex-military construction boss Colin Milne.
Since then, there has been a drive to reduce wages and conditions on the job. The workers have been harassed; more than 100 have been sacked, including a union delegate, and unions have been refused entry to the site. Milne has been getting rid of contractors who were abiding by the union-negotiated agreement, and using contractors on non-union agreements and Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts).
Twenty employees who had started work before the picket began on October 20 were threatened with $28,000 fines if they left work. Despite this, they decided that solidarity was more important and came out to join the community activists and their co-workers on the picket.
Despite the pouring rain and cold, the picketers agreed that the action was very successful. Spirits were high and morale was boosted in this very isolated part of Victoria.
[Sue Bull and Rowan Stewart are the Socialist Alliance candidates for the upper house (Western District) in the November Victorian state election.]