The industrial action by Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) maintenance workers in Abbotsford has entered its seventh week. The company is refusing to back down from its decision to sack the workers and then offer to rehire them with a 65% pay cut.
The dispute started on June 10 when 55 fitters, electricians and maintenance workers backed by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) were told by management that they would be sacked, only to be then “invited” to re-apply for their job through a third-party contractor, Catalyst Recruitment.
The offer of individual contracts came with no guarantees and would be a barely compliant non-union EBA. The offer was immediately rejected by the workers and their unions, who proceeded to undertake strike action.
According to the ETU, the company was fully aware of the consequences of its decision. It had already planned to bring in scabs from 5 Star Electrical Services, as well as a workforce from other states to replace the maintenance workers.
The workers have maintained a community picket at the CUB site with the support of their unions, families, and other unions including the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).
At the same time, both the ETU and the AMWU have been organising weekly protests at the CUB Victorian head office in Southbank.
A mass protest of more than 200 activists was organised at the Abbotsford Brewery on July 20. Victorian ETU state secretary Troy Gray, Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari and Sex Party MP Fiona Patten were among the speakers who the protest.
Several ETU and AMWU officials and organisers have spoken to Green Left Weekly over the past two weeks about the strike action, their prospects and the support they have received from the wider community.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly and 3CR Community Radio at the rally in Southbank, AMWU assistant state secretary Craig Kelly mentioned the great work and cooperation between the workers and the two unions while pointing out the increasingly difficult economic position for the company.
“It's a state-of-the-art brewery and for that you need state-of-the-art trades people. It is currently not producing beer at the high volumes that our members keep it running at, because when you have scabs, they tend to lack principles and generally do not have the required skills.”
“We've been shoulder to shoulder [with the ETU] as we always are. Our members work alongside electricians on the job and both our unions have a long tradition of representing blue-collar workers together. We've also received generous support from other unions and worksites. The metalworkers [for example] donated meat for all the barbeques we've been holding at the strike site.”
Speaking to Green Left Radio ETU organiser Steve Diston gave some background on the dispute and the current situation facing electricians:
“CUB is owned by a big multinational company, SAB Miller, with billions of dollars of turnover. They've managed to find a way to pay no tax, while their CEO is in for a $64 million bonus.
“To top it off, they are attacking Australian workers while not contributing to society in any meaningful way.”
“They have been forced to bring in scabs from interstate, like Western Australia and New South Wales, since they've had trouble finding workers in Victoria. They simply do not have the skill sets required. The electricians here are on 5-year dual trade apprenticeships and they are very highly skilled.
“The production [at the brewery] has fallen by more than 50% since the start of the dispute. There are breakdowns everywhere, and they just can't fix them.”
“There's 906 years of experience in this combined workforce sitting out the front now, ready and available to do the work. All that they ask is to be treated with the same dignity as 10,000 other electricians on the same agreement that they were on at the start of this dispute.”
The ETU and the AMWU have launched a social media and solidarity campaign titled “CUB: Crushing Workers' Rights” calling for the boycott of all CUB-owned products and merchandise, such as Victoria Bitter, Crown, Melbourne Bitter and Carlton Draught.
The aim of the campaign is to bring awareness of the disgraceful way that the company has treated the workers and to encourage shoppers and community members to show solidarity by buying beer products of other companies.
[You can support the striking CUB workers and their families directly by making a donation to CUB Dispute, BSB 063-626, Account 10629111 as well as signing the petition. You can also visit the striking workers at their picket on Southampton Crescent at Abbotsford.]