Workers at the Campbell's Soup factory at Shepparton in Victoria have delivered a setback to the federal Labor government's plan to apply individual contracts by stealth.
On September 15, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) came to an in-principle agreement with the company after a five-day dispute that included the workers being locked out.
The main reason for the dispute was the company's insistence that the Labor government's model "flexibility clause" be added to the collective agreement.
Labor's flexibility clause gives bosses the right to negotiate directly with individual staff on wages and conditions. The clause is supposedly protected by a "no overall disadvantage" test, but it would allow bosses to offer individual contracts to workers, breaking down the operation of the collective agreement.
AMWU state secretary Steve Dargavel said on September 15: "We don't want a clause that allows the employer to put pressure on a worker to accept individual arrangements that undermine the conditions that have been collectively bargained for and agreed."
"The clause the company wants would allow them to unilaterally approach individual workers and demand changes to key terms of employment.
"We can't allow the conditions in the collective agreement to be undermined."
AMWU organiser Damien King said: "They see this issue as very straightforward. We either have a collective agreement or we don't and if you allow these flexibility clauses it means that the boss can make any worker go on an individual contract that undermines the agreement.
"What's the point of having the agreement, if the boss can override it?"
In a similar dispute, Visy workers at Coburg were also locked out by management on September 14.
On September 15, Peter Mackenzie, an AMWU member at Campbell's, who described himself as "just a worker standing up for his rights", told Green Left Weekly: "The workers are 100% solid and are prepared to have their holidays in the car park; maybe get a rock and roll band in on the back of a semi."
The suspicion was that the company planned the changes with no intention of discussing it with the workforce.
The September 17 Australian reported the company's backdown. "Campbell's Soup spokeswoman Toni Jones admitted the company decided not to pursue the push to allow arrangements to be struck with individuals, due to the union opposition."
Dargavel told the Australian: "We think that individual bargaining is something that's been a failed experiment in this country, particularly in the context of blue-collar workplaces."