Fifteen of the 20 workers at the Esselte site in Minto, in Sydney's south-west, have been on strike for four weeks. The stationary company has been trying to force its employees onto Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs — individual contracts) for two years.
According to one worker at Esselte, in June 2006 when the workers first decided to reject the AWAs, "The company took us, one by one, down to the Campbelltown Art Gallery and sat us down in front of a government official. It was interrogation.
"They tried to get me to answer questions like 'Why didn't you sign an AWA?' for seven hours. They were very intimidating. The interrogator banged his hand on the table and yelled 'Stop mollycoddling me!'"
The workers, organised by the National Union of Workers (NUW), continued to resist the AWAs and, in late June, decided to go on strike in order to have their collective agreement recognised by the company. Esselte claims the strike is illegal and is refusing to negotiate with the NUW.
David Rojas, a striking worker, told Green Left Weekly, "According to the rules we have to give Esselte three days notification then we are able to go on strike. Well, we gave them a week. This is no illegal strike. Workers have made the decision to stay on a collective agreement. It is our democratic right to refuse AWAs."
The strikers' picket line is "getting a lot of support", Rojas said. "People are visiting, giving us food and money. One pensioner gave us $5. A seven-year-old boy dropped chips off to us.
"When Esselte says that half of us want to come off the strike they are lying. We are all here, together against AWAs."
The Esselte workers welcome supporters to the picket from 8am-3pm, outside the Esselte warehouse, Penbrooke Road, Minto. For more information, phone Mark on 0414 993 873 or Rach on 0403 798 420.