Cusson's intimidates workers back to work

October 16, 1996

By Kevin Meaney

MELBOURNE — Cusson's will be retrenching or relocating 39 staff from its Richmond factory by May 1997 as it closes the factory down. The main factory at Dandenong will take on 20 Richmond workers.

Members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the National Union of Workers struck from September 25 to October 10 over the miserly redundancy packages, holding pickets at the both plants. Cusson's made small improvements in the packages, but they are still unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the unions focused their attention on the Dandenong factory, where workers had less to lose. The union organised a vote at the Dandenong plant on October 9, prior to a vote at Richmond. Workers at Dandenong voted to return to work and, without support, the workers at Richmond also voted to return, 27 to 24. Had the votes been taken the other way around, workers might well have stayed out.

Cusson's main tactic to get the Dandenong workers to agree to its terms was intimidation. On October 7, the company organised 20 security guards and the police to allow 20-30 trucks into the plant. However, the truck drivers refused to cross the union picket line.

The next evening, trucks from a different company with large, non-union, drivers arrived. Workers blocked the gates, first with their cars, then by standing there, but were forced to move when police threatened to arrest them.

Union delegates followed the departing trucks onto the South Eastern Freeway, where the truck drivers attempted to force them off the road. The trucks then left the freeway and sealed off an area with the union delegates' cars trapped inside. The unionists escaped only by driving onto the footpath and through a small gap.

The dispute has gone to the Industrial Relations Commission but the intimidation continues. An IRC hearing on October 8 ordered the workers back to work during negotiations, with fines of $500 per day if they refused.