Victory for Citipower Workers

August 27, 1997

Victory for Citipower Workers

By Sue Bolton

MELBOURNE — After 15 weeks on strike defending their jobs, wages and conditions, 140 Citipower workers have won a significant victory. On August 21, the workers marched back to work beneath their union banner.

The dispute began on May 1 when negotiations over a new enterprise agreement broke down. Citipower, one of the companies which bought Melbourne's electricity distribution network, proposed a long list of attacks on working conditions, including reductions in long service leave and sick leave and elimination of penalty rates for weekend work.

Citipower refused to negotiate seriously. Workers believe the company's goal was to destroy their union, the Electrical Trades Union.

Citipower was keen to test out the new industrial relations legislation. Throughout the dispute, the company preferred to use court injunctions, going all the way to the Supreme Court.

The unity and determination of the workers, with the support of other unions, showed that it is possible to defeat hard-nosed companies.

A mass meeting of Citipower workers on August 20 voted to accept an enterprise agreement which included an immediate wage increase of 11.4%, with some classifications being entitled to an extra 2.4%, with no loss of working conditions. Hours of work and penalty rates are preserved.

The only concession is that scab contractors will keep their jobs, but they cannot be used to undermine union conditions. The agreement guarantees that contractors will be employed under the same pay and conditions as those won by the strikers.

ETU organiser Howard Worthing described the victory as a "good win for the union movement and a good win for Citipower workers".

Worthing had previously been the ETU organiser in the long-running ACI dispute. "The ACI workers got a lot of support, but mainly from the blue collar unions. The difference with the Citipower dispute is that a lot of white collar unions have also given us support. We couldn't have won this dispute without that support."

Support for the workers was shown by the $250,000 raised for the strike fund, despite a media blackout of the dispute.

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