Workers from two of the biggest crane companies in New South Wales began strike action on October 15, as their dispute for fair wages reached boiling point.
The two companies, WGC Cranes and Boom Logistics, have consistently undermined the right of workers to negotiate for better conditions.
Freo Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (owned by multibillionaire Warren Buffet), acquired WGC in mid-May. Since then, WGC has sought to impose substandard conditions on workers, including below-award, flat-rate pay and increased casualisation.
WGC workers have not had a significant wage rise since the old enterprise agreement expired in 2014.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has attempted to negotiate a new agreement with the company, but has been consistently knocked back.
WGC has instead demanded separate agreements for different yards, effectively stratifying worksites.
It has also hired a large number of casual workers to dilute the union vote and threatened to sack full-time workers if they do not accept flat-rate pay at below award wages.
The company employed a team of expensive lawyers in an effort to stop strike action going ahead and took the CFMEU to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), alleging the union had engaged in “pattern bargaining”. The commission rejected the claim.
The situation is similar at Boom Logistics, where workers have been offered a paltry 2.1% pay rise that would put them below the award.
Some workers have been frightened into accepting the deal for fear of losing their jobs. Meanwhile, Boom Logistics bosses continue to receive six-figure salaries plus bonuses.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly, CFMEU NSW branch assistant secretary Michael Greenfield said: “We just want a fair rate for all workers onsite no matter where they are.
“We aren’t out for millions of dollars, just enough to put us on par with everyone else doing the same job.
“These bosses are on huge money yet can’t pay their workers fairly. It’s ridiculous.”
Asked about the strike, Greenfield said: “This strike was only just allowed [by the FWC], and we’ll be here as long as it takes.
“It’s a human right to be able to withdraw your labour if you don’t think you’re getting a fair deal.
“The whole IR system is stacked in favour of employers. It’s got to change,” Greenfield added.