More than 300 workers at Feltex Carpets are being pressured to sign individual contacts (Australian Workplace Agreements — AWAs) as a condition of employment by the company's new owner. If they refuse, they will lose their jobs and receive no redundancy entitlements.
New Zealand-owned Feltex Carpets, which produces 25% of all carpet in New Zealand and Australia, went into receivership on September 22. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, the workers and their unions agreed to keep the Melbourne factory going.
On October 3, Australian carpet manufacturer Godfrey Hirst agreed to buy Feltex (through a $2 shelf company), and at the end of October demanded that its Australian production workers sign AWAs or be sacked. The workers and their union, the Textile, Footwear and Clothing Union (TCFUA), rejected the demand.
While the purchase of Feltex is being finalised, the TCFUA is organising a public campaign against the AWAs. On October 27, the union held a media conference outside the gates of the Feltex plant in Tottenham. TCFUA Victorian branch secretary Michele O'Neil said: "Godfrey Hirst plans to exploit John Howard's Work Choices legislation by stripping away 300 workers' current rights and protections under a collective union agreement.
"Feltex workers and their families have already had to suffer extreme insecurity over the future of their jobs and entitlements. Many of our members are migrant women who have worked a lifetime for this company ... So much for existing conditions being 'protected by law' through the Work Choices transmission of business provisions."