About 65 maintenance workers at CSL Behring, in the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, having been on rotating strikes since August.
The members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union are trying to gain a close-to-inflation pay rise and maintain existing conditions, including keeping 15 per cent penalty rates.
The CSL workers held a protest rally at the company’s worldwide corporate headquarters on the edge of the Melbourne CBD on 22 November as the company prepared to put its EBA offer to the vote without union agreement.
The initial pay offer by CSL, an Australian multinational specialising in biotechnology with subsidiaries in the US and Germany, was 2 per cent for each of three years.
Solidarity spoke to Peter, Danny, Russell and Tommy.
Peter said, “They want us to work 12-hour shifts. People have young families and you can’t expect them to do that. And then have a family life.”
Danny was most angry about the arbitrary nature of CSL’s demands for a rotating roster at short notice.
He said, “How can they do that to us? It’s a dictatorship. It’s not freedom. They want to work, say Wednesday to Sunday one week and then change it the next week without any notice.”
Russell said, “We are working two days and then striking for three. Otherwise they would lock us out.
“CSL walked out of the Fair Work Commission hearing, that’s how bad they are. And they got no sanction from Fair Work for doing so.”
Tommy said, “They’ve upped from the initial poor offer to 4 per cent in the first year, 3.5 per cent in the second and 3 per cent in the third. We want 6 per cent and 6 and 6.”
It’s not like CSL can’t afford it.
CSL is Australia’s third biggest company. Its before-tax profit this year is a whopping $4.17 billion.
The workers are angry about CSL’s rampant corporate greed while its 2021 CEO, Paul Perreault, took home $61 million that year. The Financial Review called it, “One of highest Australian CEO pay packets ever recorded.”
With CSL buying a Swiss-based plasma company in Bern in 2000, the company doubled in size.
Using Switzerland’s lower tax rate, CSL “shifted” $5 billion in revenue over five years to dodge Australian tax laws “at a time the company was tied up in giant government [Australian] contracts” for vaccines.
Swiss cantons (states) have varying tax rates, from a “high” of 21.02 per cent to as little as 13.04 per cent.
Switzerland also has a “patent box” scheme where spending on research and development attracts hefty tax deductions.
In September, the Melbourne Herald Sun wrote, “CSL is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, receiving federal government contracts worth $4.4 billion in the same time period—as well as orders for 50 million doses of Covid vaccine.”
CSL is one of the 800 major companies that paid no tax in 2021-22, according to ABC News analysis of Tax Office records.
CSL accounts show it paid just $657 million in tax in 2022-23, which is about half of what would be expected if it paid Australia’s 30 per cent company tax rate.
University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell has been a director of the company since August 2021.
The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was set up by the Federal Labor government in 1916 to provide vaccines in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1991, the Hawke Labor government privatised it as CSL Limited and incorporated it. The company went fully private in 1994, under Labor PM Paul Keating, when it was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
CSL Behring, trading as CSL Plasma, is one of the world’s largest plasma collection companies. It has more than 12,000 employees and more than 270 plasma collection centres in China, Europe and the US. In January, CSL was expanding into Israel.
The strikers have spent many hours on the picket line and coming up with a real meaning for CSL has been a group activity. “Corporate Scum-sucking Liars” is just one of the many variants of what they think about CSL.
The CSL Behring picket line on varying days is at 189 Camp Road, Broadmeadows, across from Magyar Boulevard.
By Tom Orsag