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.