Engineers face down threat of ‘intractable’ arbitration

Solidarity’s monthly industrial round-up reports on workers fighting back around the country.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Virgin Airlines’ WA regional carrier, VARA, has conceded an EBA for 50 engineers, members of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, who had imposed industrial bans since February.

In doing so, VARA backed away from being the first major employer to use Labor’s new IR laws in a bid to shut down industrial action.

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act, which came into effect on 6 June, allows the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate if an enterprise bargain is deemed “intractable” after a minimum of nine months of talks.

Airplane engineers at VARA, a fly-in, fly-out operation for northern WA resources projects, held stoppages, overtime bans and late-night shift and early morning start bans after VARA stalled EBA talks for more than two years.

In early July, VARA applied to the FWC for arbitration, arguing the talks were intractable, and also applied for an interim order for the engineers to cease all industrial action until an outcome ruling by the FWC.

During the pandemic, WA’s northern mines remained open and VARA made a profit with its fly-in, fly-out operations, the only part of Virgin Australia to do so.

A deal was reached at the 11th hour for an immediate 6 per cent pay-rise backdated to 1 July 2022, a 6 per cent “all-purpose allowance” and another 1.5 per cent allowance for two years.

VRA had initially offered a four-year deal of 14.75 per cent following a two-year wage freeze. The deal struck is 13.5 per cent over three years.

About 350 ALAEA members at Virgin Airlines, the main arm of the company, are now set to take industrial action in support of an inflation-matching 7.8 per cent pay rise.

NATIONAL: National Rugby League players have imposed further industrial bans to force the NRL to improve the conditions, not the pay offer, in their EBA.

In early July, the head of the Rugby League Players Association, Clint Newton, announced the 510 contracted players had voted to ban all media interviews.

When the NRL refused to respond to this action, in Round 22 players from all 17 clubs ostentatiously covered over the NRL logo at the top right of their jersey with elastoplast.

The chair of the RLPA, Dr Deidre Anderson, told Nine News that the NRL has “a blatant disregard for the rights and welfare of our players.

“This is a clear attempt to intimidate players into a deal that undermines their rights, their voice, and their control over their own careers and players agree unanimously that they will not roll over to union-busting tactics such as what we are witnessing.”

ADELAIDE: Hundreds of allied health workers in the SA public hospital system walked out for a stop-work rally on 3 July over the SA Labor government’s refusal to offer better wages and conditions.

The workers, members of the Health Services Union, are the lowest paid allied health workers in Australia, given chronic underfunding by successive state governments.

Allied health workers include radiographers, radiation therapists, cardiac physiologists, physiotherapists, sonographers, occupational therapists, dietitians, perfusionists, social workers, psychologists and assistants.

The situation is so bad that not one hospital bed was available in Adelaide on 11 separate occasions in June. This has led to the ramping of ambulances in hospital carparks with patients inside the vehicle waiting for a hospital bed.

One media outlet reported that the Malinauskas Labor government went to the SA Employment Tribunal to find a way to punish the union and stop any further industrial action.

NEWCASTLE: About 180 metalworkers and electricians at UGL, members of the AMWU and the ETU, have struck at least three times during July at two plants.

UGL, owned by Cimic Group, has two train building plants—Broadmeadow and Hamilton North. The workers are fighting for wages that keep up with the cost of living and want an 18 per cent EBA spread over three years.

Cimic Group (formerly Leighton Holdings) posted a $425 million profit in 2022.

The unions have been negotiating with UGL for eight months, with their EBA expiring in April, and want parity for UGL workers, who get $7 an hour less than their peers at competing train builders.

TASMANIA: About 40 truck drivers, members of the TWU, at Chas Kelly Transport went on a 24-hour strike on 6 July at the East Devonport depot.

With an impasse reached after nine months of EBA negotiations workers are worried about “fair representation, training and improved standards within the workplace”.

Mem Suleyman, the TWU state branch assistant secretary, said, “Chas Kelly Transport has relentlessly attacked them, aiming to deprive them of fair representation and improved standards.”

Chas Kelly Transport is one of Tasmania’s largest transport companies and operates shipping between Tasmania and the mainland.

WARRNAMBOOL: Twenty-one maintenance workers, members of the AMWU, at Saputo Dairy in Allansford, near Warrnambool, have been on indefinite strike since 6 July for a decent pay rise.

In 2022, Saputo, which is a Canadian-owned global corporation, had revenue of $4.5 billion, up $686 million from the previous year.

AMWU members have rejected Saputo’s below-inflation pay offer of only 13 per cent over four years, worth 3.25 per cent a year.

In order to help them win they have called in two large, inflatable friends—Scabby the Rat and the Greedy the Fat Cat, a caricature of a capitalist.

Scabby the Rat has famously and shamefully been ruled to be illegal on many picket lines since mid-2017 by Australian courts. 

If you want to support the Saputo strikers the AMWU has an account set up for them.

BSB: 082-057
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 18-898-9948
ACCOUNT NAME: AMWU Disaster Appeal Account

DAREBIN: ASU members fighting for a pay rise better than the 3.5 per cent per year offered by Darebin Council, in the inner north of Melbourne, rallied outside a council meeting at Preston town hall on 24 July.

Union members had held a stop work meeting the Friday before and voted unanimously “to tell councillors how much their EBA offer stinks”.

On the night of the council meeting, members of the community joined council workers. In response, the council closed the doors on them.

By Tom Orsag


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