On February 20, more than 200 workers were fired without pay from the Lavington-based Drivetrain automotive parts factory in Albury, New South Wales, as the company entered receivership.
While many of the workers had been at Australia's only gearbox factory for up to 30 years, Drivetrain has indicated that the almost $25 million owed in entitlements won't be paid out.
In response to an emergency picket line, Drivetrain has since tried to divide the workers, offering to re-employ 131 workers for the eight weeks needed to strip the factory. While this will free up assets worth an estimated $17 million, there is no indication that any of this will be allocated to paying out the sacked workers.
Instead, it will go towards business debts of more than $70 million, apparently caused by a collapse in demand due to the economic crisis.
Workers are sceptical about Drivetrain's claims, however, angrily pointing out that management has been retained on full wages, and that their entitlements appear to have disappeared only since December.
"Workers should not be forced to bear the brunt of the global financial crisis", said Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Dave Oliver in response to the sackings. "If the company goes bust, employees have no guarantee that they will receive their entitlements in the rush to pay creditors and banks as priority."
"Workers are vulnerable in these difficult times, and in cases where they lose their jobs, they should have full access to their entitlements", Oliver said.