Steelworks canteen workers strike over job cuts

Issue 

By Bernie Brian

WOLLONGONG — Canteen workers at BHP's Port Kembla steelworks have struck for at least five days over plans by their new employer, Advance Food Systems, to reduce their number from 108 to 68. The new canteen contractor wants to bypass seniority and declare all jobs vacant when it assumes control of operations on February 14.

Only workers deemed suitable by Advance will be re-employed. The canteen workers have no redundancy scheme.

Ironworkers' union (FIMEE) organiser Andrew Whiley told Green Left that the current, mostly female, canteen staff are seen as troublemakers because they were supportive last year of John Lysaght workers in their dispute over the introduction of contractors.

In that dispute, steelworkers foreshadowed further industrial action if other jobs were threatened by contractors. Apparently fearful of a repeat of last year's fierce dispute, BHP has offered to fund a redundancy scheme for the canteen workers.

However, the January 29 Illawarra Mercury reported that the outgoing contractor, Spotless, had rejected this for fear of setting a precedent in an industry without redundancy provisions. Steelworks unions say this is not true, as Spotless has accepted such assistance in the past.

Whiley believes BHP is misleading the public and would have to pay for any redundancy scheme anyway. "BHP is portraying itself as the innocent party in this dispute, but its heavy hand is very much in there giving encouragement to Advance."

Whiley says the union is insisting on an adequate redundancy package as well as the principle of seniority.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.