Living on tuna and rice—fighting for cost of living pay rises

Our monthly industrial round-up reports on industrial disputes across the country in June.

Adelaide: Over 50 radiation therapists at Genesiscare cancer care clinics held a one-hour strike on 5 June, after eight months of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

Members of the Health Services Union (HSU), they rejected the company’s below-inflation pay offer and unanimously voted for industrial action.

Genesiscare is offering only an 11 per cent wage rise over three years. The HSU wants a 20 per cent increase over the same period to bring South Australian therapists’ up the same level as other states, who are paid 30 percent more.

Started in Australia in 2005, Genesiscare treats cancer patients in the US, UK and Spain. In mid-2016, China Resources and Macquarie Capital bought 56 per cent of the company for $1.7 billion.

In late 2019, Genesiscare bought another US oncology company for approximately $1.5 billion. So it’s not like they haven’t got the money.

Brisbane: Port workers at Quantem in Pinkenba walked off the job and picketed outside the facility on 24 May.

United Workers Union (UWU) members are in dispute with the liquid bulk storage company after rejecting its proposed enterprise agreement. The UWU says that Quantem wants to freeze wages for three years and have been dragging out negotiations for almost eight months.

Quantem has bulk liquid storage facilities at 12 locations throughout Australia and New Zealand employing over 200 people. Its facility at Pinkenba has 85 storage tanks.

Melbourne: Around 190 warehouse workers at Australian Pharmaceutical Industries (API) are in the second week of their strike in Dandenong.

The strikers, members of the United Workers Union (UWU), are out over the company offer of a four-year EBA, with below inflation pay rises of 5 per cent, 4, 3.5 and 3.

In March 2022, the giant Wesfarmers conglomerate, which own Coles, Bunnings, K-Mart, Officeworks and Target, bought API for over $760 million.

The Wesfarmers group made a profit of $2.35 billion last year. The CEO, Rob Scott, is on nearly an $8 million pay package. He also owns $14 million of Wesfarmers shares.

API warehouse workers received just 2 per cent annual wage rises in the first two years of the pandemic. They were deemed “essential workers”, risking COVID to ensure the delivery of medical items, including masks and COVID tests.

Visit the picket line at 35-61 South Park Dr, Dandenong South or donate here

Melbourne: Performers at the Australian Ballet have voted by 91 per cent in favour of industrial action over the company’s proposed enterprise agreement. They held up a “curtain opening” for 15 minutes in June as part of the campaign.

The members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have been in negotiations since September 2022.

Management has refused to maintain a clause in the dancers’ contract which guarantees pay will keep pace with the consumer price index (CPI), a guarantee that has been in place for more than 20 years, recognising dancers’ comparatively short career spans.

One dancer told The Guardian, “We’ve had dancers who’ve had to cancel their health insurance. We have dancers who can’t afford groceries, they’re living off tuna and rice … it’s not ideal in a profession where you use your body so much and you’re expected to perform at an elite level.”

Dancers received a 4.3 per cent “catch-up” pay rise to meet the obligations of the CPI clause in February.

While they received just 2.5 per cent for 2022, an offer of a 1 per cent pay rise for 2023 has been rejected.

Melbourne: Australian Services Union (ASU) members at Darebin City Council held a mass meeting at Preston Town Hall on 15 June over their EBA fight over pay, consultation over staffing and workloads and a fair disciplinary procedure.

Around 300 outdoor maintenance workers are involved, seeking more than the 2 per cent a year offered by Darebin council, which is lower than the State Government cap of 3.5 per cent per year.

NSW: The Ambulance Division of the Health Services Union (HSU) Wales imposed work bans for 24 hours on 7 June in their ongoing dispute with the Minns State government for a pay rise.

Paramedics refused to accept jobs after the end of their normal shift and banned transferring patients discharged from hospital to their home or a residential aged care facility.

Stop-work meetings were held on 15 June at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Royal Hospital for Women, and Tamworth Base Hospital. Workers at Lismore Base Hospital stopped work for four hours and held a protest outside the local MP’s office.

Workers at RPA also stopped work for two hours on 22 June.

The Minns government has offered to increase wages for health workers by 4 per cent, plus a 0.5 per cent boost to superannuation. The union is demanding 6 per cent to keep pace with inflation and has promised further strike action.

Tasmania: Doctors at the Hobart Hospital and Launceston General Hospital began further industrial action on 2 June in a dispute with the Rockliff Liberal State government for a new agreement.

The work-to-rule means they won’t work outside paid hours, will take mandatory training courses, work to roster, refuse extra shifts, claim overtime and take entitled lunch and fatigue breaks.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) argues the wages paid to doctors at Tasmania’s public hospitals mean new young doctors are refusing to come to work and live in the state.

Burnie: Around 300 workers at the Savage River iron-ore mine and Port Latta processing plant, owned by Tasmania’s biggest mining company Grange Resources, went on strike on for first time ever on 24 June, for 48 hours.

The action by members of the AWU and CEPU cost the company more in lost earnings than it would to meet the workers’ claims for three years.

Last year, Grange made a $500 million profit. The strikers want an a pay rise that matches inflation plus a small real increase, proper penalties on public holidays, and an industry-based allowance.

Workers say they will go out again if Grange does not negotiate in good faith.

By Tom Orsag

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