Four union victories this month

ETU members protest outside Crown Casino.
November 18, 2017

This month there have been four big wins for the union movement. Seventy jobs were saved at Murray Goulburn after a six month campaign; Dave, the union delegate sacked for leading a protest in his undies, has been reinstated; electricians at Crown Casino all got their jobs back on union conditions; and supermarket giant Coles has agreed to fast-track a vote on a new workplace agreement that will pay much higher penalty rates.

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1. Murray Goulburn jobs saved

After months of uncertainty, workers at Murray Goulburn’s Kiewa factory in Victoria were told on November 10 by the new owners, Canadian firm Saputo, that the site would stay open for the foreseeable future.

National Union of Workers North East organiser Neil Smith said the announcement ended months of fighting for the site’s future, and saved up to 70 jobs.

Smith said: “We’re all so happy that the persistence of the community, the union, members and [Mayor] Jenny O’Connor who have consistently made the point, means it makes no sense to close the site.”

2. 'Save Dave' campaign wins job reinstatement

The "Save Dave' campaign for reinstatement of Illawarra underground coalminer Dave McLachlan has been successful, with the Fair Work Commission ordering his reinstatement on November 10. The concerted union movement campaign, led by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), followed the sacking of McLachlan in April over a shortlived "undie" protest.

Workers at Illawarra Coal's South32 mine staged a 10-minute protest by donning their underwear in March over the company's refusal to provide replacement work clothes and a laundry service for miners at the Appin Colliery — a condition of their enterprise agreement.

Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge found McLachlan's dismissal by Illawarra Coal to be "harsh, unjust and unreasonable". He ordered reinstatement with full continuity of employment and back pay.

McLachlan's dismissal for his involvement in organising the protest became a symbol around the country for workers fighting the erosion of their rights and conditions by big corporations.

CFMEU National President Tony Maher said it was a victory for workers' basic right to stand up for themselves: "Workers must be entitled to take action when employers breach their legal obligations to them, without fear of vicious, unwarranted and over the top reactions by their bosses," Maher said.

"Common sense and fairness has prevailed today, but it took a six-month legal battle and public campaign to overturn Dave's unfair dismissal.”

3. ETU members at Crown Casino get jobs back

Sixteen technicians who install, fix and transport the gaming machines at Crown's casino complex in Southbank, lost their jobs at the end of July when maintenance of the machines was outsourced to Amtek.

Amtek sacked the technicians, members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), and then advertised the jobs at 30% less pay. The ETU conducted an orchestrated social media campaign against Crown Casino over the sackings.

Late on November 9, all the sacked ETU Crown workers were offered their jobs back at the casino on existing terms and conditions and with increased job security.

ETU Victorian secretary Troy Gray said: “This is another great victory for working people. On behalf of the sacked workers, the ETU would like to thank the entire union movement and the community for their strong support in getting these sacked workers their jobs back. Well done all.”

4. Coles agrees to fast-track vote

Brisbane night-fill worker Penny Vickers waged an 18-month legal battle to terminate an agreement between Coles and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which left more than 250,000 workers paid less than the award and is estimated to have saved Coles at least $300 million a year.

Coles reached an agreement with Vickers on November 6 to fast track a vote on a new Coles agreement — that pays award penalty rates and above the award wages "at all times" — by no later than February.

Under the agreement workers would receive transition payments for the period between a successful vote and when the new agreement takes effect. Coles has also agreed to pay back-pay for tens of thousands of workers.

Vickers told Fairfax Media: "It's an excellent outcome for everyone. It fixes the whole problem."

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan welcomed the earlier payment of higher wages as part of the settlement.

"We know the vast majority of Coles workers have been paid much less than the minimum award wages under old dodgy SDA deals. Tens of thousands of workers were losing about $6 million per month," he said.

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