By Robyn Marshall
BRISBANE — A meeting of 29 members of the Steel-Line garage factory on November 22 decided to reject the recommendations of their union lawyer in a reconciliation process and stay on strike. The Latin American, mostly Salvadoran, employees at the factory have brought a historic case to the Human Rights Commission over allegations of racial discrimination and violence at the factory in Sumner Park.
The workers were unhappy at the recommendations, which would have given one of the supervisors who harassed them a promotion and involved the formation of a conciliation committee of three, in which a representative of the union would have been outnumbered by one from the factory management and one from the Metal Trades Industry Association.
But most importantly, according to the workers, the recommendations confused two issues by including a statement about enterprise bargaining over wage increases. The Salvadorans insist the issue is one of race relations, not wages. They have now changed their lawyer.
The strike began over a week ago when one of the workers who was changed over to another job went to ask for a roll of steel to begin work. The manager literally threw the steel roll in his face. The worker swore and said, We are not animals. He clocked off immediately and left to make a claim to the Human Rights Commission.
The next day, when he returned to work, he was sacked on the pretext of giving "misleading information". This was the last straw for the other Latin American workers, who went out on strike.
The workers want guarantees that there will be no provocation, no racial discrimination, no discrimination against union members, equal opportunity and fair treatment.
Since the strikers have not agreed to conciliation, the case now goes to the civil courts. They have also stopped industrial relations hearings until the human rights case is decided. This means they will be out on strike for at least another two weeks.
"The strike is about human rights and dignity and respect for all workers. We need solidarity from all Australians and migrants. We are not the only ones in this situation. We strongly believe we will win with your support", Jorge Rodriguez told Green Left.
The workers have set up a strike fund. Donations can be sent to Central America Workers Community, P.O. Box 368, Goodna 4300. Rodriguez also requested that readers send letters to the Human Rights Commission and the federal and state governments, asking that they find a quick solution to the problem.