Workers occupied the canteen at Securency, the banknote manufacturer 50 per cent owned by the Reserve Bank, in mid-October. The workers’ anger boiled over after management announced redundancies and then refused to meet workers to discuss them if the union organiser was present. But sadly the company was successfully able to use the Gillard government’s anti-union laws to intimidate them into ending the strike.
Securency has been making headlines for its involvement in an international bribery scandal—involving everything from payment of bribes to win contracts to links to Latin American drug gangs.
Securency’s Melbourne factory announced the redundancies, for 18 workers, due to a global downturn in demand for its products. Although the company has not admitted it, the most likely reason for this is the corruption scandal. Securency refused to negotiate over the redundancies with the AMWU, the union that covers the workers. They also refused to accept voluntary expressions of interest in taking redundancy. Workers believe this was because management wants to try and target union or OHS activists for redundancy.
Within 24 hours Securency had secured a return to work order from FairWork Australia, declaring the occupation illegal unprotected action, and threatening the workers and their union with fines. The workers then ended their occupation, but remained on strike. Management responded by individually calling them at home, threatening fines of tens of thousands of dollars unless they returned to work. With Securency only recently unionised, these bullying tactics caused some workers to break ranks, and they made a collective decision to end the strike. The workers were nonetheless proud to have stood together in what was their first industrial action.
If the AMWU had been prepared to publicly stand 100 per cent behind the workers’ decision to occupy it could have made a difference. The threats to fine workers are often a bluff designed to intimidate workers. Given the political pressure already on Securency, they would have been extremely reluctant to have a public fight and risk further embarrassment, and sympathy would have been with the workers.
The workers’ demands have not been won, but EBA negotiations are just around the corner, when they will be able to take legally protected strike action. They have made it clear to management that winning union rights and respect will be at the front of their minds.