The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) claimed an important victory on June 7 after the Fair Work Commission (FWC) upheld its appeal against a previous ruling allowing US aluminium giant Alcoa to terminate its enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) with the union. Had Alcoa been allowed to go ahead with the termination, workers’ wages would have been slashed by as much as 50% and jobs threatened by casualisation.
The AWU has been campaigning for two-and-a-half years to protect the wages and conditions of its 1600 members employed at Alcoa smelters and mines across Western Australia.
As part of the dispute, workers went on strike for 52 days at company sites in Kwinana, Pinjarra, Willowdale, Huntley and Wagerup. The strike ended on September 28 after the AWU secured a guarantee that no current worker would be replaced by casual employees or labour hire contractors.
Since then, Alcoa has attempted to get AWU members to vote for inferior EBAs on three occasions. Each time, workers have voted its offers down, with 61% of members voting "No" in the latest vote in March.
The union labelled the FWC’s December ruling to allow Alcoa to terminate the EBA as "not just erroneous, but heartless". While the company argued that the EBA restricted its ability to operate effectively, efficiently and profitably, the AWU noted that financial audits showed the company had made almost $2 billion in profits in 2017.
AWU state secretary Brad Gandy hailed the decision to uphold their appeal, saying: "The AWU will continue strongly opposing Alcoa’s attempts to terminate the current agreement and remains focused on negotiating a new, fair and reasonable agreement as soon as possible. This is an important win for all union members, as we are all in this together."
Gandy added: "If the company fixed and addressed the job security element of the agreement, then we would be almost over the line. We've always seen job security as key in these negotiations. This could be resolved by the company being sensible and offering something fair and reasonable, or rolling over the current agreement."