A summer of struggle on the picket line

Workers kept up the fight over the normally quiet summer period, with disputes fuelled by high inflation and issues relevant to each workforce.

BRISBANE Drivers for Cleanaway Commercial and Industrial Services at the Darra and Burleigh depots held a 24-hour strike on 19 January and ran picket lines. The drivers, members of the Transport Workers Union, collect commercial, industrial and liquid waste.

The company’s proposed enterprise agreement seeks to change rosters and cut pay. TWU Queensland director Jared Abbott said: “Cleanaway have an obvious industrial agenda and have been marching out the same document across all of their sites in Australia.”

And in SYDNEY, Cleanaway drivers in the City of Sydney, Randwick and Erskine Park struck on Friday 27 January. The company wants to roll back conditions like overtime, rostering and workforce consultation. Waste drivers in the City of Sydney voted to strike again on 7 February.

MELBOURNE Funeral industry workers at Invocare, a big Australian Stock Exchange-listed company, went on strike for the first time since the 1980s on 20 January. The company has a current turnover of $400 million a year. It runs Le Pine, White Lady, Simplicity and WD Rose, among others.

Members of the Australian Workers Union parked their hearses and marched down to the Le Pine Funeral Home in Glen Waverley for a four-hour strike. The workers’ social media post said they felt “completely undervalued by big bosses for the compassionate hard work and long hours they do every day”.

SYDNEY Fifty ship maintenance workers at Thales Garden Island, members of the Australian Metalworkers Union, held a strike on 19 January and protested at the facility for a better pay rise. Thales has a contract to provide dry-dock facilities for the Australian Navy.

The French-owned weapons manufacturer recorded a profit of 1.7 billion euro in 2021, up 5.3 per cent.

SHEPPARTON Forty workers at Visy’s plants in Shepparton, Victoria, went on strike on 18 January for a better than CPI pay rise, the first strike at the plant in 60 years.

The workers, members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, have struck on three separate days since. They also travelled to Melbourne to picket the company’s head office.

Visy is Australia’s largest privately-owned company with an annual turnover of $7 billion. Its owner Anthony Pratt is worth an estimated $14 billion, making him the third richest person in Australia.

A Tax Office review of the biggest company non-tax payers for 2013-14 listed Pratt Consolidated Holdings as having paid no tax, despite more than $2.5 billion in revenue.

The company is offering a 2.6 per cent pay rise annually for three years—a pay cut with inflation currently at 7.73 per cent.

Danny Miller, AMWU organiser, said workers put in extra hours during COVID-19 and to meet greater demand for its product. The strikers are in a powerful position as they make cans for SPC fruits, Campbell’s Soup and Simplot.

FREMANTLE More than 70 workers at the CBH Kwinana grain terminal at Port Fremantle, in Perth, walked off the job for 24 hours on 12 January and planned to strike for 24 hours on the following Saturday. The workers are members of the Maritime Union of Australia.

The union has drawn out industrial action, with low-level work bans implemented back in October, against CBH (Co-operative Bulk Handling) for a new enterprise agreement. The union wants a pay rise which matches CPI.

CBH Group is a grain growers’ co-operative that handles, markets and processes grain from the wheat belt of Western Australia.

In 2019, CBH reported a profit of $60 million, which is probably much more now. Workers condemned the CBH Group directors, saying they had awarded themselves salary increases close to 10 per cent per year over the next two years.

In 2016, the Tax Office revealed that despite generating more than $3.4 billion in revenue in 2013-14, CBH Group paid no tax. This made it Australia’s biggest revenue earner not to pay tax in the period under review.

BODDINGTON Members of the AMWU and Electrical Trades Union, direct hire employees of South 32’s Worsley Alumina Refinery in WA, walked off the job on 28 December.

They voted for ongoing work stoppages in pursuit of their first enterprise agreement.

After 17 bargaining meetings, both unions’ members walked out. There is a growing feeling of frustration, as the company won’t recommit to bargaining meetings following a majority No vote to the company’s offer.

Strikers are fighting for a wage that catches up on years of stagnant increases, with the plant still behind other regional industry comparisons.

Another core claim is the reinstatement of workplace benefits that were stripped away from some workers and not provided to new employees.

SYDNEY Nurses at two private hospitals in Sydney, the Mater and St Vincent’s, walked off the job on 1 and 2 February for two hours against a below-inflation pay rise offer of 3.75 per cent by management.

More than 700 members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association went on strike, a continuation of a campaign for the decent pay rise, which began with a one-hour stoppage in December.

Mater nurses banned overtime for 12 hours and St Vincent’s nurses banned overtime for 24 hours as well.

About 20 ancillary health care workers, members of the Health Services Union, walked off the job on 1 February at the Prince of Wales Hospital against management using contractors to deliver essential medical services.

HSU members are refusing to work with contract workers and have banned training them. They told management that unless contract workers were withdrawn by 12pm on 8 February they would walk out for the rest of the afternoon.  

WOLLONGONG Ten electricians, members of the Electrical Trades Union at Dynelec, in Unanderra, walked off on strike on 27 January for a better enterprise agreement.  The company carries out electrical engineering for the mining industry.

Workers want a 36-hour week, with a nine-day fortnight, a pay rise that matches inflation, income protection and top-up insurance and the right of union delegates to access training.

The ETU said further strikes and work bans were planned.

By Tom Orsag


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