Ninety workers stopped work on June 10 across the three manufacturing sites of Tieman Industries in a battle for a new collective bargaining agreement. Among their demands are a 36-hour week — in effect a nine-day fortnight — a better redundancy clause and a decent wage increase.
The importance of the redundancy clause was recently highlighted by the dismissal of 13 workers. The three-day strike follows a picket line, which just finished its sixth week, in response to the lay-offs.
"The workers were pretty pissed off", Tony Mavramotis, an organiser for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, told Green Left Weekly. "With the redundancies and now the company's bad attitude towards EBA negotiations, the workers were very ready to take action."
Tiemans has used the former Howard government's legislation that allows companies to bring in short-term migrants on 457 visas. Management prefers workers on 457 visas what it refers to as their "good attitude".
"We see this as code for 'they'll do what ever they're told'", Mavramotis said. Workers on 457 visas are often more vulnerable. Research has found them to be paid substantially less than the permanent workforce. They are also very reliant on their employer, due to restrictions on their ability to find other work or seek permanent residency.
Those keen to obtain permanent residency require a sponsor employer. These different factors can pressure these workers into a situation in which they are unable to question safety conditions at work, for example.
Mavramotis said if negotiations did not progress the strike action would continue. "The blokes have been out for three days this week and are ready to go out again next week if it is necessary", he said.
"A key element of success for this campaign is that 90% of the workplace are union members and are willing to stand united."