More than 70 workers at Visy’s Dandenong plant voted on August 7 to maintain a peaceful picket and not return to work after an Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) delegate was sacked on August 4 for organising “illegal industrial action”.
The workers, all members of the AMWU, had become increasingly angered by a series of provocative actions taken by Visy management in the weeks before the delegate was sacked.
One worker, who wanted to remain anonymous because he feared repercussions, said: “If delegates can be sacked through kangaroo courts and alleged misdemeanours, then it’s open slather.”
Visy, the worlds’ largest privately owned packaging and paper company, is owned by Anthony Pratt, a member of one of Australia’s wealthiest families. Visy has a history of taking a tough stance with unionised workers and has clearly decided this dispute is worth a fight.
The dispute began when workers at Visy in Dandenong were told there would be changes to their drug and alcohol policy. The workers were told changes would be introduced whether they liked it or not.
This was the culmination of a series of management demands aimed at “cultural change” within this workforce. The workers, about 40% of whom are of Albanian background, say they do not know what “culture” management wants to change.
However, at another plant a few weeks earlier, an area manager is alleged to have assaulted a worker and a lower level manager. While there was an investigation, the area manager was not stood down and no action was ever taken. The Dandenong workers wondered if this might be the “cultural change” — where management has all the say and workers have none.
Consequently, the workers approached the AMWU and asked if they had to do overtime. The union said it was up to them whether they worked overtime. About 90% of the workers then declined to do voluntary overtime.
Dandenong is one of Visy’s most profitable plants and had been working at full capacity. On July 26 Visy sought and won interim orders from the Fair Work Commission that directed the workers to cease all forms of industrial action, including overtime bans.
The workers complied with these orders but then two AMWU delegates were stood down for organising “illegal industrial action”.
A worker anonymously told Green Left Weekly: “We were not going to stand for this as there is a track record here of sacking delegates after they’ve been stood down. So at a mass meeting on July 31, we decided to cease work.”
About 70 workers maintain a peaceful presence outside the front gate. They told Green Left Weekly that scabs have been brought in from South Australia, NSW and Queensland, but they cannot operate the technically specific machines used in this workplace. Consequently the plant is now only producing enough material for 10 trucks each day instead of 80.
Visy has won orders to stop the strike and a Federal Court injunction against the AMWU and their officials, including the four job delegates. On August 4 the delegate was sacked and at a mass meeting the following Monday the workers voted to stay out indefinitely and maintain their peaceful picket.
This dispute is proceeding in the depths of a miserably wet and cold Melbourne winter. If you can help boost the spirits of these brave and defiant workers, please come down and show your solidarity at 119-125 Greens Rd Dandenong South.