On February 12, Foster's Australia announced its decision to axe 115 maintenance jobs from its Abbotsford plant in Melbourne, where it makes a large proportion of its beer products, including Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught.
The announcement made headlines due to the fact that three of the workers given notice were told over the phone while they were fighting bushfires as volunteer CFA firefighters. Foster's management was "regretful" about the timing. One of these workers, Shane Cramer, had worked at Foster's since 1979 when he did his apprenticeship there.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) organiser Chris Spindler said on February 17 that the redundancies were announced without any warning. "The workers had no idea this was coming. They're pretty disgusted about how it was done and the fact that neither the union or the workers were consulted. It came completely out of the blue."
The Foster's redundancies are not a response to the tough times faced by many companies due to the economic crisis: in 2008, the company made a whopping $713 million profit. If it wasn't for the lagging wine side of this massive corporation they would have made an even greater profit.
At the same time the company announced the redundancies, it announced that ABB Maintenance has been awarded to take over the maintenance from next month.
In a disgusting display of contempt, the company has advertised almost every day in Melbourne newspapers for a new maintenance crew.
However, many of the skills shared amongst the current workforce are specialist skills only a few in the workforce have. The development of the skills for the next generation of workers will be hindered by the fact that contractors in manufacturing are well known for not investing in apprenticeships.
In ABB's job advertisement for replacement workers on February 18, it had the arrogance to publish the pay rates that the new workers will be receiving. These pay rates would see fitters, who make up about half the maintenance crew, receive a drop of more than $5 an hour in pay. These rates have been hard fought for through the strength of the workforce sticking together.
ABB may re-emplo some of the workers made redundant, but no assurances have been given. "They might hire a very small number of people although nothing's certain. And they will be employed on lower pay and on lesser conditions", Spindler said.
The workers and their unions — the AMWU and the Electrical Trades Union — have mounted a campaign to defend the jobs. They have visited pubs to inform drinkers of Foster's intentions. Much of the response has been positive. Thousands of signatures are being collected on a petition to be presented to Foster's.
[For copies of the petition, contact the AMWU on (03) 9230 5700.]