BY SUE BULL
MELBOURNE — Elizabeth Vujkov has worked for Flair Menswear, now owned by Hugo Boss, for 23 years. She was shocked when she was told on February 26, along with 119 others, that the whole manufacturing section of the company was being made redundant.
"They're going offshore", she told Green Left Weekly. "There wasn't even a hint prior to this. Do you know that in the 76 years of this company's operation, there has never been a strike. But now we're united. We all walked off the job, even though we were given a month's notice. We're seeking four weeks pay per year of service instead of the miserly two weeks."
According to Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) state secretary Michele O'Neil, the workers know that the company has been making huge profits — $32 million in the last year alone. So once they had tried to negotiate with the company for a better deal and got nowhere, they moved to the canteen and sat in overnight in protest. They now have a 24-hour peaceful assembly outside the company's gates.
On March 8 the TCFUA held a mock fashion parade outside the company's retail outlet in Collins Street, where they chanted: "Hugo Boss is a stingy boss. We made you millions and you gave us peanuts." Passersby were asked to sign petitions and hear the stories of the striking workers
Nearly 80% of Flair Menswear's work force are women and many have worked for the company for up to 40 years. They earn little more than $30,000 a year and this includes the weeks when they work 56 hours.
When asked whether there is other work available, they shrugged their shoulders. "There's no way we would become outworkers" said Vujkov. Carmel Cartolano agreed: "That's right, we're not prepared to work for almost nothing. We'll probably be stuck with cleaning jobs or ironing. I don't know."
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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