Construction workers resign in protest

Issue 

Citing low pay, management intimidation and poor safety, metal construction workers at the Coles Myer distribution centre in Somerton resigned their casual employment with labour hire contractor Busicom Solutions on April 11 and set up a 24-hour protest outside the centre.

A leaflet distributed by the protesting workers outlines the pay rates and conditions on the site, where casual employees are paid less than $18 per hour, which is around $10 per hour less than normal construction industry rates. Overtime penalty rates are also much lower than the industry standard — for example, public holiday rates are 1.4 times normal pay rather than the standard 2.5 times.

On April 13, community activists organised by Union Solidarity blockaded the distribution centre's main gate for four hours, tying up all the morning's delivery trucks, in a protest in solidarity with the Busicom workers who resigned. As well as Busicom, the protest targeted the contractor that has hired Busicom, Schaefer, and Coles for letting its contractors treat workers so badly.

Former Busicom workers at the protest told Green Left Weekly that a number of them had been referred to the job through Centrelink's job network, and were threatened with losing their Centrelink benefits for eight weeks if they did not accept the position. They say they were asked to sign 20-page Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts) after only sighting them on a computer screen and without obtaining a copy of the AWA. Some workers said they didn't ever see a payslip while on the job.

Safety has been a major concern at the construction site since a previous contractor, Skilled Engineering, removed a union activist from the site when he raised safety issues. The workers who resigned from Busicom told GLW that a worker who merely asked for the site toilets to be cleaned was dismissed.

[The Busicom workers' protest is on Union Road in Somerton, and supporters are encouraged to visit.]