As striking workers at office supplies manufacturers Esselte Australia in Minto entered their seventh week of resilient action against forced Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), their boss was getting more desperate.
Seventeen employees have been striking against Esselte's attempt to force them onto AWAs. Mark Ptolemy, a National Union of Workers spokesperson, relayed the latest intimidation tactics taken by Esselte. "We recently found a listening device attached to a fence right near our picket. We've had a number of people look over it, and we're getting a security company to check it out, but we're pretty sure it is a listening device. This is not very surprising given the picket from the very start has been videotaped."
The July 31 Daily Telegraph interviewed Esselte boss, Mr. Barry Starr, who admitted he was keeping workers under surveillance "to stop them breaking the law". Esselte management didn't stop there. David Rojas, the workplace delegate, told Green Left Weekly: "A few days before we found the listening device we had four workers on the picket. Myself, and other workers were leafleting nearby about the picket. Barry Starr came up and [made a statement to the effect of] 'There are angry people waiting inside for you when you get back to work. They will take you into the corner and bash you. The company can't protect you. You are asking for it by creating problems for yourselves.'" Rojas reported that Starr also told them their cars could be damaged.
Rojas noted that "one worker was very frightened by Barry Starr. He was the same worker who had been taken over a year ago and interrogated by the government for seven hours. This worker is developing psychological problems because of this." The four workers have written statutory declarations about the incident and given them to the police.
Ptolemy has taken the government up on its million dollar publicity campaign around Work Choices, and has rung its Workplace Infoline. He said "the only response I got when I told them about the problems we are having was to send out some material in the mail. They have no people on the phone line who can answer in depth. I was disappointed by their response." Rojas said "We are stepping up the campaign in local areas. We are leafleting information about Esselte's intimidation to Officeworks."
Susan Price, NSW Senate Socialist Alliance candidate in the upcoming federal elections, told GLW that "No matter how many hotlines the federal government sets up, workers understand that Work Choices is about undermining their wages and conditions, and giving a green light to employers like Esselte to undermine collective bargaining.
"The workers at Esselte should be applauded for showing that no amount of intimidation can stop workers organising. This is exactly the kind of activity we need across the work force, to defeat Work Choices and to scrap AWAs. [Labor leader] Kevin Rudd's talk of 'phasing out' AWAs is a warning to us yet again: workers can't rely on the ALP to deliver this if elected — we've got to keep organising."
Workers picketing Esselte and their supporters rallied outside Esselte's Sydney offices in Macquarie Park on August 1. They took to the streets the following day at PM John Howard's Sydney office. For more information phone Mark on 0414 993 873 or David on 0416 132 081