By Margaret Gleeson
ADELAIDE — An amendment to the Metal Trades Federation of Unions' (MTFU) national executive recommendation, which would have set a minimum of 15% for wage increases sought in enterprise agreements, was narrowly defeated at a mass meeting here on March 16.
The stop-work meeting of 500 members was part of a series of national meetings called to report on progress of the third round enterprise agreements in the metal industry.
Most current agreements expire between March and June, and agreements now under negotiation call for a minimum wage increase of 4%.
MTFU state secretary Brian Mowbray, who reported an industry-wide 136% increase in profitability, singled out local employer Email, which, with a profit increase of 58%, has delayed negotiating a new agreement.
Mowbray stated that wage demands would have to be "ratcheted up" from the minimum of 4% endorsed by membership meetings late last year.
The national recommendation sought to include a clause in agreements "allowing re-negotiation of the wage outcome should increases in interest rates, taxes or the imposition of a compulsory superannuation levy result in the reduction of living standards of Metal and Engineering workers", and stated its determination to conduct a "nationally coordinated industrial campaign". However, no concrete action was proposed other than a show card day in each plant throughout the industry on March 21.
Mowbray said that the pursuit of significant wage increases would depend on "the conviction of the membership" rather than a concerted campaign of industrial action.
He urged members to make deputations to local MPs to put the heat on the federal ALP government to develop "innovative and interventionary industry development policy".
Workers at the meeting doubted the conviction of the union leadership to struggle for wage justice and were dubious of the ALP's capacity to deliver.
A shop steward from Bridgestone asked, "Are we going to pursue the claim to the bitter end? Last year we voted for industrial action, but what happened?"
He also questioned the union's links with the ALP, stating, "There is no political party which is looking after our interests".
Davey Thomason, an organiser in the construction division of the CFMEU at the national level, challenged the enterprise agreement strategy. "The problem with not putting a figure on the wage claim is that the majority of the workers will get nothing; only strong sections will get significant increases. The majority will not get out of the working poor."
He cited the Transport Workers Union's 15% across-the-board claim as an example for the MTFU. "Otherwise we are just in the game of transferring wealth to the bosses."
Thomason was also critical of decision making in the campaign. "We should be encouraging amendments to motions and promoting discussion among members ... mass meetings are dwindling in size because of this top-down decision making."
Thomason moved an amendment that a minimum wage increase of 15% be sought. The amendment was put to a vote by show of hands. What looked like a line ball decision was called "out" by the umpire and the national recommendation was carried.