‘You don’t fight poverty with pay cuts’: Brotherhood workers escalate fight to beat inflation

More than 100 ASU members at anti-poverty charity the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) in Melbourne went on strike for a full day on Friday in their campaign for a better enterprise agreement. Rallies took place at Brotherhood offices in Sunshine, Frankston and head office at Fitzroy.

Motorists beeped as workers held placards that read “honk for fair pay” and “you don’t fight poverty with pay cuts”. The mood on the rallies was electric and shows the potential for further escalation of the campaign for better pay and conditions.

At the start of the day workers held pickets at offices to encourage colleagues to join the strike.

Union delegate Andrew was at the Fitzroy rally. He told Solidarity, “What upsets me, and the workforce, is BSL won’t pay a pay rise which matches inflation, while BSL has an $82 million surplus.

“It’s a pretty insulting pay offer for the first year and a pay cut. Then for the life of the EBA it’s a pay cut each year. They are happy to take government funding but not pay their staff fairly. Do we not deserve a decent pay package for the hard work we do?

“For many, it’s their first strike ever. It’s great that the new members [of the union] are beginning to realise that we are the union, we are part of it.”

BSL can afford to pay workers in line with inflation.

ASU members will strike again next Monday. They need to take the energy from Friday’s strike back to their offices and convince more workers to join the next one. More and bigger strikes are the way to win.

Essential

In late May Brotherhood workers voted down a non-union agreement that would have locked in below-inflation pay rises and seen improvements only to parental leave and cultural leave entitlements.

These essential workers in aged care, early childhood, NDIS, financial education, migrant services, research and admin, 80 per cent of whom are women, are demanding more.

After the successful No vote and sustained industrial action including work bans and two four-hour strikes, BSL management offered an extra 0.5 per cent in the third year of the agreement.

This would bring the pay offer to 5 per cent this year (with most staff receiving 5.75 per cent because BSL has agreed to pay 3 per cent above award rates), 4 per cent next year and 3.5 per cent (up from 3 per cent) in 2025.

The Brotherhood has agreed to 30 days of paid gender affirmation leave and 10 days a year of paid cultural leave for First Nations staff.

Union members are now fighting for inflation-matching pay rises and reproductive leave that is more accessible. BSL is offering 10 days a year of reproductive leave but it is available only once staff have used up all their sick leave.

As well as resisting workers’ demands for a better enterprise agreement, BSL is refusing to pass on all the money it is getting from the government to fund a 15 per cent pay rise for aged care workers, because they are paid above the award. BSL also refuses to include all eligible workers in the portable long service leave scheme.

Federal government funding accounts for more than 70 per cent of BSL’s revenue. The Albanese government came to power promising to get wages moving. It should use its $19 billion surplus to fund cost-of-living pay rises for workers.

Supporters are encouraged to join striking workers at a rally at 12.30 on Monday 14 August at the BSL head office, 67 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

By an ASU member

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