Eight workers on strike at Thompson's Roller Shutters in Turella returned to work on November 15 after winning a 12% wage rise over three years and other conditions in a collective agreement. The company had been the target of a number of community pickets over the preceding week.
The workers had been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a collective agreement with their employer for several months. When the boss offered individual contracts (AWAs) with a 5% pay rise and said the most the workers would get on a collective agreement was 3%, they decided to strike. The AWAs were rumoured to worsen working conditions in exchange for the pay rise.
Seven of workers signed the AWAs, while the other eight took strike action with the support of their union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU). They also demanded that redundancy entitlements be increased from the minimum eight weeks to the industry standard.
At the same time, another union member was sacked after he had repeatedly complained about racial harassment. The company had refused to act on his complaints. This unlawful dismissal case remains unresolved and will be taken to court.
The company brought in labour-hire workers from notorious anti-union firm Frontline to replace the strikers. Unionists who attended the community pickets attempted to explain the issues behind the strike to these casual workers, with some expressing sympathy for the strike.
With labour-hire the only avenue for employment many workers are able to get as companies casualise their workforces, those brought in to scab were in a bind. If they told their employer they wouldn't work at Thompson's because of the indutrial dispute, they might not be offered more work. Under PM John Howard's Welfare to Work laws, they would face a 12-week wait for any social security benefits if they refused work.
After a discussion at one of the early community pickets, those present agreed not to harass these labour-hire workers, but to seek to win their support and to join them to the union.
The community pickets were called by Worker Solidarity, a network of community activists opposing Howard's IR laws. Before the pickets, Thompson's management had been very cocky, openly defying the picketline. After three days of turn-outs by 30-40 community picketers, a change in attitude from the boss led to his representatives approaching the AMWU with an offer to sign an enterprise agreement to end the dispute.
A further community picket was held on the morning the negotiations were to take place to let Thompson's know that if it wasn't serious about resolving the dispute, the pickets would continue. At this last action, picketers decided they would not seek any confrontations with management or workers going inside the plant.
The striking workers won a wage rise, backdated to July 31, an increase in redundancy entitlements and recognition of the union as their representative. They also obtained a written agreement that there would be no recriminations from management over the dispute.
At the final picket, when it was known that management was willing to negotiate an end to the dispute, the delegate and union organiser thanked Worker Solidarity for its support, saying that a result could not have been achieved without it. Picketers pledged ongoing support for the union in its disputes with employers.
To get involved in Worker Solidarity, email <email@example.com>.