Downer workers strike for permanent jobs

Workers outside the Downer Group’s Pakenham East Rail Depot and Stabling Yard. Photo: Electrical Trades Union/Facebook

Workers at Downer Group’s Pakenham East Rail Depot and Stabling Yard, who had been on strike for three weeks for secure jobs, have managed to force the company to agree to some of their demands. They build the new high-capacity trains.

The workers took strike action for full-time permanent jobs after bargaining for a new enterprise agreement had dragged on for 12 months.

Downer Pakenham members set up a 24-hour picket, which ended at midnight on May 27 when the first Victorian COVID-19 lockdown began. 

Workers at Downer’s Newport depot also took industrial action. The Newport and Pakenham sites are covered by the same enterprise bargaining agreement.

Around 180 workers at the two depots are members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.

Downer has been promoting casual and “supplementary” labour rather employ workers on permanent full-time contracts.

Companies use casual contract or fixed-term workers to replace the full-time permanent staff, not supplement it. Workers at the Pakenham site said that supplementary workers are even given training and supervision before permanent workers. 

Enterprise bargaining agreements usually include a clause stipulating that supplementary workers should only be used as a secondary workforce with a limit of six months “whenever possible”. After this, they should be offered a full-time employment contract.

Contract workers at Downer want permanent jobs.

Negotiations have resumed since the strike. Since the strike, the company has indicated that it would make some workers, although not all, full-time and that the 36-hour work week will get phased in. However, negotiations are ongoing.

If no agreement is reached, workers have indicated that they are prepared to take industrial action again.

Financial support for the Newport Downer workers has poured in from other workers including those at Metro Tunnel, OI Glass, CUB and union officials.