Kurnell workers win partial victory
By Dave Mizon
On July 15 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission handed down a decision that places the dispute between Caltex and workers at the Kurnell refinery out of the NSW state industrial system and into the federal arena.
However, the price for this move has been the dissolution of the state oil branch of the Australian Workers Union that was set up to cover the Kurnell workers in the early 70s by members at Kurnell. Federal officials have indicated that they will now press ahead with an interim federal award to preserve present conditions and, at a later date, an enterprise agreement for the site.
For its part Caltex has indicated that it will appeal the decision while proceeding in the state industrial commission with its case to slash conditions and jobs at the refinery. The company's propaganda is now much less aggressive and confident in its tone.
The decision, while in no way ensuring victory for the Kurnell workers does give workers, members of the AWU, a respite from the company's campaign to replace them with non-union labour. The remaining laboratory workers are now on day work while still receiving shift penalties. Working alongside them are the undergraduate students employed to replace them. Clearly the dispute at Kurnell still has a long way to go.
In a separate development, workers at Shell's Geelong Refinery voted overwhelmingly to reject the company's proposed enterprise agreement. The proposal came after four weeks of intense negotiations between the union and management. Shop stewards at the Geelong site warned management that the company's vision of the enterprise agreement was doomed to failure.
The company wanted 12-hour shifts, annualised salaries, multi-skilling and job cuts in return for a 2.9% wage rise over three years. The union has proposed an 8% pay rise to reflect the increased productivity the company has already gained over the last two years.