By Robyn Marshall
BRISBANE — Thirty Salvadorans have been on strike since November 17 at a roller door factory, Steel-Line Doors, at Sumner Park in Brisbane's western suburbs. They say they have been subjected to racial discrimination, and have to work under very different conditions from the Australians employed in the factory.
The Salvadoran workers allege the factory owner has instigated a campaign of intimidation, violence and threats against the Spanish-speaking workers, who make up half of the work force, ever since they joined the Automotive, Food, Metals and Engineering Union. So it is really an issue of union and non-union membership, with management using racist prejudices to divide the work force.
The boss has actively encouraged supervisors and many of the Australian workers in the campaign of racial hatred in order to provoke an incident. One supervisor even invited a Salvadoran worker to a fist fight out on the footpath, went outside and waited for him to appear.
The boss at one time ordered three of the Salvadorans, who are all metal workers, to go outside and cut the grass by hand with machetes. He and the supervisors stood there and laughed at their humiliation.
They have no lunch room, no safety clothing, no first-aid rooms and inadequate toilet facilities. Workers have been injured in unsafe conditions; subsequently the management refused to approve workers' compensation claims. There is unfair distribution of overtime and work duties and continual threats of violence if the Spanish-speakers complain.
The strikers are demanding that three supervisors be sacked. They refuse to go back to work unless there are guarantees that the violence and threats will stop. They say at the moment it is too dangerous for them to return. They have lodged a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and they return to the Industrial Relations Commission on November 22.
The facts became public when Garrie Gibson, Labor MP for Moreton, raised the issue in federal parliament during the debate on the Racial Hatred Bill.