In a big development in industrial dispute involving Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) and the 55 maintenance workers it has sacked in Melbourne, the contractor at the centre of the dispute, Programmed Skilled, has broken its contract with the brewery.
The 55 workers were sacked in June — then offered their jobs back with a 65% pay cut. The company brought in unskilled scab labour, with the sacked workers, backed by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), picketing the Abbotsford factory.
Programmed Skilled claimed it was concerned about the health and safety of its workers at the site as they passed the protest camp set up by the sacked workers each day. The real reason, however, is likely to be that Programmed failed to maintain production without the skilled maintenance crew that had worked for CUB.
Without the skilled workers, the companies that produce the glass bottles and aluminium cans for CUB's beer now have 50 million bottles and cans that CUB cannot fill.
This is a huge cut in production, just as Melbourne heads into the biggest drinking season of the year — with the AFL finals, the Spring Racing carnival and Christmas/New Year.
ETU state secretary Troy Gray told a solidarity rally outside the gates of the brewery on September 1: “Programmed has to pay the 55 workers for the past 12 weeks.
“CUB don't have a maintenance contractor that can do this work. There's no maintenance contractor in the country that will take over the contract and walk into this mess.
“CUB is paying for the shelf space in bottleshops, even if they can't keep up the supply.
“To have Programmed pull out with their tails between their legs is a win, but it isn't the win. CUB has to do the morally right thing and re-employ the workers in-house, which is cheaper than labour hire.”
The dispute began on June 9 when 55 electricians and fitters and turners were told not to turn up to work the next day but to go to a hotel instead.
When the workers turned up to the hotel, they were told that they were sacked and could only get their jobs back if they applied for their old jobs with a 65% pay cut —and without many of their old conditions such as the 35-hour week.
CUB had replaced the contractor that the maintenance workers worked for, Quant, with Programmed Skilled. Programmed Skilled had its own enterprise agreement to replace the one the workers had spent seven months negotiating with Quant.
Programmed Skilled has a long history as an anti-union company. It has a number of tricks up its sleeve to attack unions and trash workers wages and conditions.
The ETU and AMWU had to force Programmed Skilled to the Fair Work Commission to find out that Programmed Skilled owns a subsidiary in Western Australia called Catalyst Recruitment, which has a registered a non-union enterprise bargaining agreement.
ABC radio's Background Briefing revealed on August 28 that Catalyst registered a non-union agreement in November 2014, which was voted on by three casual workers in Western Australia. One of these three workers, who worked for the company for a total of six days casual work, was told that he had to sign the agreement as a workers' representative, despite not understanding what he was signing.
Background Briefing contacting that worker, a 23-year-old student who had been asked to do some casual work by a friend's father. He told Background Briefing he did not even know what the company did and knew nothing about the agreement he signed.
The agreement was signed by an employer representative and the worker, with the worker's name not printed. There is just an illegible signature for the worker.
This substandard agreement is now being used by Catalyst to cover all of its workers all over Australia in manufacturing, and associated industries, building and construction, joinery and building trades, electrical and communication fields, and mining. This enterprise agreement allowed Programmed Skilled to sign up workers on pay rates 50 cents above the award.
In another new development, CUB's production workers, who are covered by United Voice and the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), walked out on August 25for the first time since the maintenance workers were sacked. The production workers are getting ready to negotiate their enterprise bargaining agreement, which means that they will be able to take protected industrial action.
The production workers held a stop-work meeting on August 25 before walking out of the plant to join the maintenance workers. United Voice state secretary Jess Walsh told the rally that the stop-work meeting passed a motion “calling on CUB management to immediately intervene in the dispute and order Programmed to re-employ the sacked workers on wages and conditions no lower than previously.”
If CUB does not resolve the dispute, United Voice and the CFMEU say they will escalate stop-work actions.
“The CUB 55 must be re-employed or our members are prepared to take more stop-work action,” Walsh said. “For as long as there's been a brewery in Abbotsford, there's been a union here.”
CFMEU president Ralph Edwards told the rally: “There has been a drop off in militancy in manufacturing and now there needs to be a push back [from workers].
“You have to do more on the job and demand more for your work. There's only one course of action. You have to demand control over your work. The CFMEU will be here till the end.”
With its contractor pulling out, the production workers threatening industrial action and a building community campaign resulting in more and more pubs refusing to serve CUB products, CUB is under real pressure.
CUB's strategy of seeking to starve the workers back to work on lower wages has not worked. It has been a tough dispute for the CUB 55, but the workers and their unions are building up the protest structures at the Brewery's gates with a scaffolding structure, lounge chairs and a giant Scabby the Rat. The slogan of the workers is: “One day longer, one day stronger.”
CUB simply has not been able to maintain production without its skilled workers. Electricians and fitters who come from other workplaces cannot operate CUB's complex machines without a long training period.
Unions are pushing their CUB boycott campaign all over Australia, with teams of people leafleting the footy finals, thousands of people pledging not to serve CUB products at footy finals BBQs, and a mass rally being planned for Melbourne.
Unions are also calling for a nationwide boycott of CUB products in support of the sacked workers. These products include: Abbotsford, Carlton, Cascade, Crown, Foster's, Great Northern, Grolsch, Matilda Bay, Melbourne Bitter, Miller, NT, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Pure Blonde, Redd's, Reschs, Sheaf, Victoria Bitter, Bulmers, Dirty Granny, Mercury, Strongbow, Kopparberg, Cougar Bourbon, Cougar, The Black Douglas, Karloff Vodka, Akropolis Oyzo, Prince Albert's Gin, Coyote and Continental.
[There will be a march in support of the CUB 55 on September 8 at 11am. Rally at AFL House, 140 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands then march to Parliament House.]