Victory for Otis workers after 8-week lockout

Issue 
Otis lift workers claimed victory on December 17 after an 8-week lockout.

Otis lift workers in Melbourne claimed victory on December 17 after an eight-week lockout when they voted to accept an agreement that included all but one of their demands.

The 174 Otis workers had been trying to negotiate with the company since April. With the company insisting on a below-inflation 1% wage increase, the workers began industrial action at the end of September with bans on overtime, shiftwork and the commissioning of lifts and escalators.

The company responded by locking out the workers on October 21.

The demands were for a decent wage rise, parity with other construction workers working on the same site with regard to double time pay for overtime, fares and travel allowances, and height money, income protection and protection from the Abbott government’s building code.

In the lead-up to the industrial action, the unions discovered many safety issues. These included lift cars that didn’t have hand rails on the top, workers riding up the lift shaft on the top of an elevator without any protection and lift car roofs not certified for weight.

The workers won a 14% pay rise. They also won all of their other claims except for double-time for overtime.

The workers are members of the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Union. They are divided into two groups: those who build the lifts and escalators on construction sites and those who service lifts and escalators.

Otis tried several tactics to divide the service workers from the construction workers. Critical to the workers’ victory is that both groups stuck together throughout the whole dispute.

Otis workers in other states and workers in other lift companies supported the Otis workers with a levy from their pay.

The workers also received strong support from international unions – from unions in Denmark, Scandinavian countries, the European Union, Irish unions and US building workers. Irish unions voted to take industrial action in support of the Otis workers.

The Otis workers’ victory sets a good precedent as the unions are starting negotiations with about 15 other lift companies for new agreements.

ETU organiser Howard Worthing told Green Left Weekly: “This was an attack on the workforce by Otis. It was a philosophical attack because it is in support of the Abbott governments [anti-union] building code. The workers resisted that. They all stood together as a collective.”

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