Metroshelf sacks union workers

Issue 

BY SAM WAINWRIGHT

SYDNEY — When the 165 employees of Metroshelf in Revesby turned
up for work on June 28 they found security guards standing in front of
the locked gates.

Management told 50 of them that they had been sacked for alleged poor
productivity and refused them entry to the site. However, all the evidence
suggests management’s real reason was the decision by the majority of the
workers to join the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Metroshelf manufactures metal shelving and displays for supermarket
chains. Until May the workers had been members of the Australian Workers
Union, but were very frustrated with it. According to workplace delegate
Linh Nguyen, “The AWU organiser never comes when we need him and he’s always
late. But when the manager calls he comes straight away. He speaks to the
boss first. He doesn’t speak with us first so we can go up and speak together.”

Apparently the AWU’s cozy relationship with management was topped off
with an arrangement whereby management guaranteed to pay the workers’ union
dues.

Anger really started to gather strength this year, when workers saw
management fail to abide by a number of provisions they thought were included
in the agreement the AWU had struck for them two years ago. These included
redundancy procedures and pay rises.

Things reached a peak when management and the AWU told the workers they
had to keep working in temperatures above 45oC. When they went
to the Industrial Relations Commission to check up on these issues they
were told that the AWU had failed to have their agreement certified and
it could not be enforced. As it stands, the Metroshelf workers are only
covered by the award “safety net”.

When an AMWU organiser visited the site at the invitation of the delegate,
80 workers joined up straight away. On May 24 AMWU organisers met with
management to ask the company to stop paying dues to the AWU for the workers
who had come across to the AMWU. Nguyen explained; “On Friday the boss
asked me for a list of those who had transferred. I gave the list to the
floor manager and when we came back on Monday the gates were closed.”

Of the 50 workers who were sacked, only two were still in the AWU. AMWU
organiser Mark Dal Molin is convinced that these two were sacked to make
it appear that the sackings were not based on AMWU membership. At present
only 22 employees are continuing to work. The majority of those who were
not sacked have refused to go through the gates in solidarity with their
sacked workmates. As one of the workers, who has been employed by the company
for 16 years, put it: “How can I come here and work when all my colleagues
and friends have been sacked.”

Of course, those who have volunteered to stay outside the gate are losing
pay. Not that Metroshelf is too generous, only paying a welder $13.82 per
hour. Those outside say the ones working are still too scared to stand
up for themselves.

There is also little doubt that the company has also been using racism
to divide the work force. All those out on the grass are Vietnamese Australians,
while the few faces you see beyond the fence are white.

The workers themselves are a bit reluctant to talk about this at first
because they want to make it clear that they do not see things in racial
terms. One explained that a white worker who had only been a permanent
employee for a month was promoted to leading hand ahead of others who had
been there for more than 10 years.

At the moment, the workers are not blocking access to scabs and trucks
and the AMWU has an unfair dismissal application before the IRC. However,
it is clear from the spirit of solidarity among the 80 or so workers gathered
outside the gate that they are ready and willing to escalate the action.

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