Sydney community pickets back workers

November 11, 2006

Community activists have bolstered picket lines at Botany Cranes (Exell St, Banksmeadow) and Thompson's Roller Shutters (Henderson St, Turella) on several mornings over a period of several weeks.

The community pickets were organised by Worker Solidarity, a new group that aims to mobilise people from the general community to support workers in disputes with employers where the union-organised pickets are restricted or outlawed by the Work Choices laws.

On October 25, 150 people participated in a community picket at Botany Cranes to support Barry Hemsworth, a construction union (CFMEU) delegate sacked after opposing management plans to make its crane drivers responsible for their own risk assessments without proper occupation health and safety training. It was the third picket organised by Worker Solidarity outside Botany Cranes.

The company had been parking its 20 mobile cranes in the surrounding suburbs to avoid having them held up in the yard by picketers. However, on October 30, 30 picketers arrived at the site to find all the cranes inside the yard. A blockade ensued, preventing the cranes from leaving for up to two and a half hours. Picketers withstood a crane driver loyal to management attempting to drive his massive crane through the picket line.

Two days later, 40 community activists joined a picket line at Thompson's Roller Shutters in Turella. Eight Thompson's workers had been on strike for three weeks in pursuit of a collective union agreement with the company. They had held a picket line at the entrance to the factory every day.

Thompson's has refused for six months to negotiate a collective agreement with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, trying force the workers onto individual contracts (AWAs) instead. As part of the collective agreement, union members want their redundancy entitlements increased to the industry standard.

The striking workers have also been supporting a fellow union member who has been subjected to racist abuse and intimidation for some time. He has made numerous complaints to management, which has taken no action. The worker was sacked, allegedly for "causing division" among Thompson's employees, after he lodged another complaint following a particularly disgusting incident of racist abuse.

Further, an apprentice at Thomson's, who stayed inside during the dispute, was sacked after talking to the strikers during his lunch break. When he took the strikers' lunch orders to the local shop, the boss rang the shop to cancel the order.

To find out how you can support the workers at Botany Cranes and Thomson's, email Worker Solidarity at <>.

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