After an 18-month ordeal, workers at Tristar — a Marrickville-based car parts manufacturer — claimed victory on November 15 after the company agreed to pay redundancy packages to all its remaining Sydney workers. The last of 32 manufacturing workers will leave the company on November 30.
The dispute began when Tristar's workers, many of whom had been with the company for more than 30 years, were kept on the payroll with no work to do after the plant ceased manufacturing. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Australian Workers Union have pursued redundancy payouts through the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the Federal Court and the Magistrates Court, arguing the company was keeping the employees on only to avoid incurring the redundancy payout they were entitled to under their enterprise agreement.
The dispute gained national attention earlier this year, when it became known that terminally ill employee John Bevan was among those being denied their redundancy pay. The company finally agreed to pay him two days before he died, but even then insisted on his redundancy being treated as voluntary rather than forced, which meant his payout, around $50,000, was capped at one year's pay, even though he had been there 34 years.
Federal workplace relations minister Joe Hockey tried to take some of the credit for the outcome of the dispute, claiming that the government's workplace laws, and the decision of the Workplace Ombudsman to take the matter to the Federal Court, had resulted in the payout.
"It [has] taken Tristar far too long to do the right thing but I am pleased that the Coalition government's strong stand on this matter means all the workers covered by the legal action have now been paid out", he said in a statement on November 15.
"A combination of stronger laws and a vigorous watchdog has led to this great result for the remaining Marrickville Tristar workers."
But Hockey was forced to admit, "The unions have played a role [and] the workers themselves have played an enormous role".
But AMWU organiser Martin Schutz said Hockey's comments were "totally hypocritical", and that the minister and Prime Minister, John Howard, had to be dragged "kicking and screaming at every stage of this dispute".
Schutz said the workers won in the end because they made the decision to stick together and fight and they got their community and their unions were involved.