Smorgon Steel uses divide and conquer tactics

Issue 

BY KRIS KOCSIS

MELBOURNE — As the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) strike and picket at Smorgon Steel passes the six-month mark, the union faces another challenge as the company attempts to further divide unions on the job.

Twenty-five electricians from Smorgon took strike action on February 25 to win a new enterprise bargaining agreement, which includes the 36-hour work week. The 36-hour work week is now the industry standard for electrical contracting.

The workers have not been able to overcome problems with the secondary boycott legislation. As they are not directly employed by Smorgon Steel, they could face massive fines if any attempt is made to block trucks from crossing the picket line. After their jobs were contracted out in the early 1990s, they ended up working for two electrical contracting companies, IES and TAD/ADECCO, at Smorgon Steel.

Over the course of the dispute, the ETU has been involved in talks with ADECCO, however two weeks ago the company cancelled the third in a series of negotiations without any explanation, and then ceased all communications with the union.

Bernie Ashton, the ETU shop steward on the site told Green Left Weekly: "Recently the IR manager for Smorgon has been involved in talks with the fitters' union on the site [the Australian Workers' Union] and reached an agreement for a 10% pay increase over the next three years."

"When we approached [the company] to negotiate with a similar package they said they would back the AWU but not us."

The company's divide and conquer tactics have resulted in the AWU withdrawing any support for the ETU members who are still on strike. This could cause a split between the unions on the site.

Despite the AWU's lack of support for the strike, some AWU members are showing their support for the striking workers by helping out with financial assistance.

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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