Workers at Fletcher Insulation in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs have been on indefinite strike since February 17 after being offered an Enterprise Agreement (EA) that would slash conditions, raise serious safety concerns and offer no pay rise.
Fletcher Insulation produces heat, fire and sound insulation for residential and business properties. New Zealand-owned Fletcher took over the Dandenong factory from ACI Glass several years ago.
The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) has been negotiating a new EA with Fletcher since August. After months of fruitless negotiations, the 90 workers, many of whom have worked at Fletcher for more than 30 years, voted to take indefinite protected industrial action and established a picket line at the front of the factory.
The company’s offer includes no pay rise for four years, the extension of the working week from 35 to 38 hours a week and the removal of minimum staffing levels, which is a safety concern. The company also intends to make unlimited use of casual workers and drastically reduce redundancy provisions.
AWU Victorian secretary Ben Davis said the offer was outrageous given the record productivity levels from the long-serving workforce and was indicative of a deeper agenda.
“It defies logic that workers who have proved they are committed to the company and just months ago set new productivity records, could be treated so shabbily,” Davis said.
“Production was up 20% in the last quarter of last year, yet only weeks later these workers are told they are not worth a pay rise for four years, and the conditions under which they have worked for so long will be done away with.
“It is unfair, it is illogical and it is impossible not to arrive at the conclusion this is an ideological battle.”
On March 27, Fletcher made a new offer that did not address the issues and was unanimously rejected at a mass meeting. A counter offer was made, which the company rejected.
Instead of putting effort into settling this matter, on March 29 Fletcher applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the existing EA, a tactic increasingly favoured by employers. If successful, this would push workers onto the award, which could reduce their take home pay by half.
This is the first time such an application has been made in the manufacturing industry and could have implications for the entire manufacturing workforce if they are successful.
“This is an enterprise which has been successful because of the skill and commitment of workers who are now under attack by their employer,” Davis said. “They had no alternative but to take a stand in the face of this attack on their rights and conditions.”
“The AWU has continued to attempt to negotiate in good faith on the issues but has met a brick wall.
“Negotiations are about give and take, but in this case Fletcher is only interesting in taking.”
[The picket is on 24 hours a day at 127 Frankston-Dandenong Road, Dandenong South. Visitors are always welcome. You can contribute to the strike fund at https://www.gofundme.com/awu-fletcher-insulation-strike]