Fairfield Council workers downed tools for two days in September in the face of an aggressive management trying to slash workers’ pay, allowances and other entitlements.
Over 100 United Services Union (USU) workers defiantly picketed the Fairfield Depot site. Several delegates and members from nearby councils in Campbelltown and Liverpool also came to support the picket. Library staff also voted to strike, walking off the job and shutting down four of the five Council libraries. Administrative staff from the Civic Centre joined the strikers at the building entrance to hear speeches and debate resolutions, while a sizeable group of scabs tried to keep the Civic Centre open.
USU Metro Salaried Officers Branch delegate, Edward Saulig, gave a rousing speech denouncing the underhanded methods of the administration, calling for his fellow workers to continue the fight.
“The Council has a leadership programme it claims. Well, I’m telling you, the real leadership is right here in front of me, on this picket. You are the ones leading the fight for recognition and fair treatment at this Council, not management!”
He also urged them to seek out both members and non-members who had not gone on strike to convince them to be part of collective union action that has won the conditions they now enjoy. A motion to continue the strike the following week was carried unanimously.
The catalyst for the strike came when, after more than 12 months’ negotiation over three Enterprise Agreements, Council management sought to strip away significant allowances and conditions. When the union opposed this, management moved to terminate the agreements altogether.
This meant that around 160 employees would lose between $50 and $207 per fortnight, and face cuts to other entitlements, including concession days and access to extra sick leave. Members of all three unions involved, the USU, the Development and Environmental Professional Association and Local Government Engineers Association, voted for a full strike. USU members also carried a motion of no-confidence in the council general manager, Andrew McLeod.
Faced with a strike, employers in the NSW state industrial relations system are usually quick to lodge a dispute with the Industrial Relations Commission. This time, knowing their unscrupulous behaviour wouldn’t stand up in front of the Commission, no case was lodged. The unions lodged the dispute themselves, arguing the Council had negotiated in bad faith. Disappointingly, industrial action was suspended pending the outcome of the hearing. The USU has now requested the case proceed to arbitration.