Union to challenge unfair decision on work at Alcoa

AWU members and their families on a picket line last year. Credit: Caitlyn Rintoul

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) condemned the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision at the end of last year in favour of US multinational Alcoa, saying on January 4 it would fight it. 

The FWC decided on December 21 that Alcoa was able to terminate its enterprise agreement with 1600 workers, which it did on January 7, putting their jobs and conditions at risk. The agreement covered workers in five aluminium refineries and bauxite mines in West Australia.

The AWU has been waging a militant campaign to protect their job security and conditions, including a 53-day strike last August and September, which ended on September 28 after the union won an agreement that guaranteed no workers could be replaced through casualisation or labour hire companies. The company offer was voted down by 61% of the workforce.

The FWC decision was slammed by the AWU. WA acting branch secretary Brad Gandy said on January 4 it was “not just erroneous, but heartless” to leave 1600 men and women in uncertainty and chaos just days before Christmas.

The union will appeal the decision. AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said the FWC had relied upon “subjective evidence” from Alcoa management rather than “its own audited financial results”.

Walton said that the FWC “accepted [that] Alcoa was restricted from operating efficiently, productively and competitively, because three managers complained about disputes that had arisen with the AWU about the operation of the agreement.

“The evidence of these managers was completely at odds with the objective financial information, relied on by the AWU, which clearly demonstrates Alcoa has made monumental profits.

“These profits could not have been achieved if Alcoa was genuinely restricted by the terms of the current agreement with its workers.”

Alcoa’s audited report shows it took close to $2 billion in profits from its operations in Australia in 2017.

Gandy said: “The enterprise agreement in question contains longstanding, sensible, and reasonable conditions that have been refined for many years.

“This is an enterprise agreement that saw Alcoa through the [global financial crisis] GFC and helped it remain extremely profitable. The company booked an annual net profit figure of $1.1 billion for 2017.”

Alcoa draws most of its workers from the Peel region and any decision which puts jobs at risk will impact heavily the whole community.

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